Author Archives: Copperfield

About Copperfield

Since 2000, The Copperfield Review has been a leading market for historical fiction. Copperfield was named one of the top sites for new writers by Writer's Digest and it is the winner of the Books and Authors Award for Literary Excellence. We publish short historical fiction as well as history-based nonfiction, poetry, reviews, and interviews.

An Interview With John Nuckel

Historical fiction author John Nuckel’s new book is called Drive.

When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

I stated writing about 11 years ago. My first three novels made up the Rector Street Trilogy. They are financial thrillers.

What is your latest novel? How would you describe it to potential readers?

My latest is Drive. It’s the first episode in what will be The Volunteers series. The Volunteers is an organization formed at the turn of the last century by a captain from Teddy Roosevelts Rough Riders. The original intent was to fight against the tyranny of Tammany Hall. The Volunteers as an organization has been around in the background of New York City since that time.

What makes this book different?

Half of the book takes place between 1899 and 1905. The other half happened last summer. This highlights the effectiveness of The Volunteers as an organization. This format enables me to write about any era within the last 127 years. My next one takes place in the Cotton Club during the roaring twenties.

All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like?

I tried everything! I self-published my first three books and two short stories. I submitted pieces to many publications in addition to making the rounds with the novels. I’ve been fortunate to have been published in businessinsider four times and had a feature piece run in the New York Times.

What are the joys/challenges of writing historical fiction for you?

The joy is the research. I’m a bit of a history buff so I love going to the library or city museums and spending hours with my nose in a book. The challenge is to make sure that I give proper respect to the characters. Although it is fiction, I write about strong people and I try to make sure to give them their due.

What is the research process like for you?

As I mentioned, research is my hobby. I’ll start with a google search and end up in the library reading old articles about all sorts of characters. That will lead to buying a book. I also like to go to the places that I write about. I visited a few pubs researching Drive.

Do you travel for research? If so, what role does travel play in your writing process?

Most of my books are about NYC. I live here so it is easy to go to the places I write about. I plan on writing a western for The Volunteers series soon. Did you know that Seth Bullock of Deadwood fame was a Rough Riders and struck up a friendship with Teddy Roosevelt? I may travel west to write that one.

Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

Raymond Chandler and F. Scott Fitzgerald are my two favorites. I love Chandler’s economy of words and Fitzgerald writes so beautifully. I have so many others. I read a book a month. I’m down from two a month since I have been writing.

What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

You have to love your subject. There is no other way than to be immersed in the time period and the characters.

What else would you like readers to know?

Drive is a nice mix of action and history. It even has a little romance. It was so much fun to write and I’m sure it will be fun to read.

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The Visionary Librarian

By Michael Bloor

January 1st, 1781

I do not fully know my reasons for setting down this record of past events. I have studied the works my great contemporary, David Hume, and I therefore no longer cleave to the kirk and to the faith of my fathers. Yet the purging of what others call my soul, penitence, and the striving for a moral life, they all remain a habit with me. Furthermore, I have a strong presentiment that I shall not live out this winter. These days of bitter chill may be my last opportunity to reveal my hidden crime and to state my case, not to the Maker in whom I no longer believe, but perhaps to my better self – the self who always seeks but never finds, who can carefully shape a principle but cannot always live by it. If others should find this manuscript after I am dust, may they read it and know that even a puir body can try to do his duty.

I have taught the school in the parish of Inverallan for thirty seven years and I trust I have discharged that duty honourably, though no Inverallan weaver’s or ploughman’s bairn has joined the ranks of David Hume, Adam Smith, William Robertson, and William Fergusson – the Philosopher-Kings of Scotland and all Europe. However, the Inverallan dominie has a further duty yet – a duty greater, I believe, than that of schooling the Inverallan bairns – I refer to my duty as Keeper of the Books. A hundred years since, the Inverallan laird bequeathed his library of two hundred volumes (together with a respectable sum for their upkeep) as a free library to all men and women who wished to borrow them. When the old minister, Mr MacKellar, informed me of my appointment and showed me the library that was to be in my charge, I could conceive of no duty under the sun that could be more pleasurable. I was not to ken then the rue that would come to me.

In the early years of my charge, Inverallan and the surrounding parishes were in a sorry state. The laird had declared for Prince Charles Stuart, and when the laird is for a cause then the tenants have little choice but to follow. Two score of men had marched off with the laird, my elder brother Alexander among them. Only three lads limped home. At first, we had good news of Alexander. It seemed that he had distinguished himself in the field at Preston Pans and, when the laird fell ill and was left behind in Edinburgh, Alexander took charge of the laird’s men on the march into England. On the retreat from Derby, Alexander was detailed to be part of the garrison the Prince left in Carlisle. After that we heard nothing. Cumberland’s army marched through our parish on their way to Culloden: they fired the laird’s castle and drove off all our cattle and our remaining horses.

It was in February 1752, a time of want and bitter cold, that I had more news. In the late evening there was a tapping at my window, but the pane was so frosted over that I could not see out. I took up my lantern and opened the door. A tall figure, muffled in a cloak stood before me. There was a bright moon, but his face was shadowed by his hat.

‘They tell me our parents are both dead.’ It was Alexander. I dropped the lantern; we embraced.

I fed him some porridge and spirits and studied him as he ate and drank. To my surprise, he seemed hardly changed, for all his seven-year absence. Only his rich, travel-stained clothes spoke of a difference. He told me bits and pieces of his story: it seemed that in the ’45 several men had died at his hands; more recently, he been in France in the service of the Stuarts, but Scots were no longer welcome there; he had used the last of his money to pay the ‘freetraders’ (as our smugglers are commonly called) to land him near Kirkcaldy; he had travelled to Inverallan only by night, there being a price on his head. But rather than talk over-much about himself, he had the charming ability to draw out the talk of others:

‘Well, Jamie lad, you’re quite the scholar now. I see on the table that “Lock’s Works” is your present study eh?’

‘Philosophy is only one of the subjects to be found in The Free Library, Sandy. There are books on geography, history, theology, and mathematics, translations of Ovid and Virgil, maps, collections of sermons…’

‘Yon is a strange conceit, is it not? to make a pile of your books, some of them doubtless worth a year of our faither’s labour. And then offer them up to any passin’ ploughboy that has a fancy for them?’

‘Each ploughboy, as you put it, must sign for each volume that he borrows. But Sandy, I don’t think you’ve grasped the wonder of the thing. They come here from their fermtouns and weavers’ cottages, limbs stiff after a hard day’s labour, walking miles through the sleet and the glaur. They carry back with them Shakespeare’s Sonnets to read by the ill light of their cruisie lamps. And that is their taste of Rhenish wine and honey cakes, their bed of goose down, their transport to Samarkand. With a book in his chapped hand, every ploughboy is an equal of the Duke of Argyll and the Marquis of Breadalbane. This free library is a growing light in a dark world, Sandy.’

‘Pish, Jamie. Your ploughboy is a duke’s equal (mention not that damned Argyll to me) in the alehouse, wi’ a tankard in his hand and a maid on his knee. What need of books, when you’ve left the schoolroom?’

In my eagerness to convince Alexander, I fetched the Borrower’s Register to show him. As he turned the pages, he murmured: ‘Well, well, Andra Comrie borrows Abercrombie’s Sermons. I thought him dead on the field at Falkirk.’

Seizing on this sign of interest, I lent over his shoulder to point out one of old Peter Reid’s borrowings. Alexander frowned: ‘I never marked Auld Peter as a scholar, Jamie. Does he have a daughter or a granddaughter who would read to him?’

‘He died last Lammas, Sandy and he’d lived alone up at Loanhead these four years. It’s my guess that the old man sought and loved the nearness of books. Perhaps his was the delight of the adventurer who trembles at the threshold of the treasure chamber…’

Alexander snorted, but I persisted – a man who lives too much alone with his thoughts: ‘I fancy that old Peter’s pleasure in his borrowings is like my pleasure in this library. I am surrounded by more books than I can ever read, surrounded by more knowledge than I can ever glean, more wisdom than I can guess at. Surrounded thus, I’m not daunted, I tremble with pleasure.’

I paused, embarrassed. Alexander gave me a long look and spoke softly: ‘Jamie, I have need to borrow a pile of your books… Indefinitely.’ I stared. ‘There’s a bounty on my head. I know of a vessel at the Broomielaw in Glasgow that will carry me to a new life in the Carolinas. For a price. Your books are as good as ready currency.’

My elder brother faded before my eyes and a simulacrum took his place. The brawling spirited lad I had idolised, and run after, was vanished like snow off a dyke. I recalled my mother’s sorrowing judgement: that Alexander was like a cherry, sweet to taste but with a stone at his centre. Before me was the callous gallant who had left his parents to fret and go to their graves thinking him dead on a battlefield, who had fawned and intrigued for place and favour in foreign courts, and who had only returned briefly to his native Scotland to profit from, and ruin, his brother’s position of trust. Worst yet, he would pillage the free library – the library that is, and should remain, a hope and consolation in a wretched world.

Every schoolroom is a stage for the dominie to strut and strike a pose. It was now my turn to dissemble and fall in with Alexander’s plans. We made up his bed, despite his faint protestations (‘I’m an old campaigner, Jamie – the heather has oft times been bed enough for me’) and fixed that he would stay hidden with me the next day, departing in the dusk with his booty of sixteen books (more than he needed for his fare, I’ll warrant).

That next day, I watched him take the less-frequented moorland road. I marvelled at how he hardly bent his back, shouldering the coarse linen sack of books. When he was past the castle ruins, I grabbed my hat and walked over to the manse, to beg the loan of the minister’s mare (I was still a communicant in those days and a member of the kirk session). I then took the military road to Stirling. I had slow progress over the half-frozen snow and dawn was breaking when I reached Stirling Brig. Mares’ tails of mist were twisting over the River Forth, which Alexander had to cross to gain the Glasgow road. I had the Brig sentry call up the Sheriff’s Officer, an old pupil of mine, to whom (in confidence) I told my tale.

After resting the horse, I turned for home and only heard the end of the story a week later. Samuel Haldane, the Sheriff’s Officer, came by to return the linen bag of books. I sat him down at the fireside and poured him a glass. He told me that Alexander, as he’d surmised, had been too canny to try to cross the brig: Haldane had put a concealed watch on the upstream ford and his men had taken Alexander there by surprise. However, as the party were marching back to Stirling, Alexander had slashed at one man with a concealed dirk, broken away and ran for the river. Whether the pursuers’ musketry had been successful, or the cold of the river had overcome Alexander, Haldane was unable to say, but Alexander’s body was seen to be borne away by the current, down to the sea.

Haldane could see that his news had pierced me. He rose and laid a hand on my shoulder: ‘Mr Robertson, your brother Alexander was well-kent in all this countryside from Stirling to Crieff, even before The Rebellion. He was too wild a man for these New Times.’

Though Haldane’s words were some comfort to me, mine is nevertheless the sin of Cain. But I did not commit fratricide merely to repossess a bag of books. Rather, I would claim that I sinned for a great principle, the principle of free knowledge. I have served that principle (not always constantly, but as best I can) for thirty seven years. And, if I could still pray, I would pray that the light of Inverallan library would shine out across all Scotland and the whole wide world.

______________________________________________________________

Michael Bloor is a retired sociologist living in Dunblane, Scotland, who has recently discovered the exhilarations of short fiction. This story was written as an homage to the wonderful Innerpeffray Library, founded as a free library in 1680s.

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Mont Gisard

By David Hourani

Southern Palestine, 1177

Sweat and dust caked the young man’s hair and cropped beard as he rode the road north from Ascalon.

Youssef ibn Bakhus was the son of the Muqaddam of Ehden, the Maronite lord of the town. His father was a vassal of the Count of Tripoli, and as such, was a rear-vassal to the king of Jerusalem.

When the crusaders came to the Levant, they were surprised to find thriving Christian settlements in the mountains of Lebanon. The Maronites saw the benefit in having much needed allies in their fellow Christians from Europe, and homage was a small price to pay for security. The Crusaders recognized the asset having indigenous guides and translators would be.

Youssef and his men were trained with the bow, lance, and sword from a young age. Unlike the Franks, they fought in light armor, composed of quilted silk and hardened leather, with interlinked mail across the chest and torso. The horses they rode were slightly smaller, but were faster and had more stamina than the large European destriers their counterparts rode.

He had known the king since they were children. When offered the chance to join the king’s household two years prior, he had taken it, bringing with him thirty men from Ehden and the surrounding villages, but leaving his younger brother behind. The transition had been difficult initially. He had been looked upon with some suspicion by several of the nobles at court upon his arrival; however, over time he had earned their grudging respect, and the friendship of several.

As he rode, his mind wandered to what had led to this point.

Baldwin, the King of Jerusalem, suffered from leprosy and, as such, could not produce any heirs and the most likely candidate to inherit the kingdom would be a child of his sister Sybilla, who was recently widowed and pregnant.

Philip of Alsace, the Count of Flanders, and one of the most powerful nobles in Europe had come to the Levant on Crusade. On his arrival, he had demanded that Sybilla marry one of his vassals. Baldwin had not outright refused this as he could not afford to anger such a powerful lord. Instead, he simply did not answer and sought to form an alliance with the Greek Empire in Constantinople with the goal of striking at Egypt, hoping to threaten the base of the power and wealth of Salah al-Din, the Sultan of Syria and Egypt. When Salah al-Din learned of this, he began strengthening the defenses of Egypt and calling his levies.

Philip of Alsace had other plans. He did not want to share the wealth or crown of Egypt with the Greeks. He decided instead to move to attack northern Syria with several knights of the kingdom and the lords of Tripoli and Antioch.

With the Kingdom of Jerusalem weakened with many of its warriors in the north, Salah al-Din decided to invade from Egypt with the thirty thousand man army he had gathered for its defense. Baldwin had less than six thousand men with which to defend his kingdom.

The Frankish army had moved south to meet the Muslim threat, but as its numbers became known, they realized that a pitched battle would be futile and retreated inside the defenses of Ascalon, remaining there as Salah al-Din had moved north raiding Ramla and the surrounding villages.

Youssef now rode with three men, and they had seen no sign of Salah al-Din’s forces other than the occasional charred field or house. One of his men pointed in the distance at two riders approaching swiftly. He recognized two of his men he had sent forward with strict instructions to find Salah al-Din’s rear screen line and then return.

“Speak, Samir.”

“Lord, we came within sight of the rear-guard and baggage train.

“Were you seen,” Youssef questioned quickly.

“No, lord. There is no screen line.”

Quickly realizing the importance of this information he turned his steed back toward Ascalon. En route, he came upon more of his scouts with similar information, as well as others with information that the road south to Gaza  was clear of the Muslim army as well.

 * * * * *

When he arrived in the great hall in the Citadel of Ascalon, he found King Baldwin in quiet discussion with Joscelin of Edessa, his uncle, and Reynald de Chatillon, the lord of Transjordan and the newly appointed regent of the realm.

The lord of Transjordan looked more like a common soldier than one of the most powerful vassals of the kingdom, more comfortable in a camp than a great hall. A tall man with auburn colored hair and beard, and skin turned dark tan by years in the sun of Outremer, he had a scar ran down the under his right eye, giving him an almost sinister appearance. The younger son of a Burgundian nobleman, he had come to the Holy Land twenty years prior seeking his fortune during the Second Crusade. He found it,  becoming Prince of Antioch through marriage to the then heir, Constance of Antioch. He ruled the Principality for the next eight years and developed a reputation as a man of prowess, ruthlessness and brutality on the battlefield. Captured by Nur ad-Din in 1161, he was held in captivity for fifteen years during which his wife had died. His stepson, Bohemond had become Prince of Antioch during his imprisonment, and so upon his release, he was again landless. He traveled south to the Kingdom of Jerusalem and offered his services to the young king. King Baldwin consented to and arranged to his marriage of one of the great heiresses of the kingdom, Stephany of Milly, who was heir of the Transjordan. Reynald had returned the king’s favor with undivided loyalty.

Youssef made his obeisance before the king, but the king quickly motioned him to his feet, recognizing the urgency in his expression and step.

“Speak, Lord Youssef.”

“Salah al-Din has split his forces. His vanguard has burned Ramla and is marching on Lydda, while a portion of his army has been sent to burn the hill villages,” he paused for breath, before continuing. “He has left no screen of scouts between Ascalon and the army. The road to Gaza remains clear as well.”

All three men were quick to understand the implications of the report. The other lords in the hall turned their attention as Baldwin quickly stood to his feet, waving aside the assistance from his servants.

“Send a messenger to Gaza, instruct the Grand Master to meet us on the coastal road south of Ibelin. Call the men to arms, call out the city levies as well,” the king ordered.

“Sire, even with only part of his army, Salah al-Din will still have more than twice our numbers,” Joscelin of Edessa reminded him, “victory is in no ways assured.”

Although always one for action, the lord of Transjordan looked unsure as well, as did several of the other lords; however, the king had no doubts.

The king’s face, scarred from his leprosy, was resolute as he stared coldly at his uncle.

“I would rather face try the dubious chance of battle with the enemy than suffer my people be exposed to rape, fire and massacre, while I remain safe behind tall walls. The kingdom is my charge and I will safeguard it.”

Before the king’s uncle could argue further, Reynald de Chatillon shouted, “To arms!”

With that, the discussion was ended and the hall sprang to life. Youssef quickly gathered the rest of his men who had not been scouting with him. He saw the stepsons of the count of Tripoli, Hugh de St Omer and his brother William gathering their household knights. The summoners were riding through the streets calling the feudal levies that had gathered to arms.

Youssef was surprised by how quickly Reynald had been able to organize their forces. They numbered around five thousand men in total, with six hundred mounted knights. They left late in the afternoon and headed north along the coastal road toward Ibelin and Jaffa.

Youssef had to bridle his impatience, the speed of their march limited by their footsoldiers. Despite having their left flank covered by the sea, they were still incredibly vulnerable on the march.

It was not long before an alarmed scout road up reporting mounted men approaching the rear of the column. Most likely it was the Templars from Gaza, but Reynald dispatched Hugh de St. Omer and Balian d’Ibelin with their household knights to the rear just to be safe. Because time was of the essence, the march would not be halted.

It was not long before a messenger arrived at the head of the column reporting the arrival of the Templars, shortly followed by Odo, Hugh and Balian at the head of their knights.

The Grand Master had brought eighty knights. He joined Baldwin and Reynald at the head of the column. As they neared Azotus, a rider approached where Youssef and Hugh de St Omer were riding with their men in the column. As the rider drew closer, Youssef was surprised to see it was the lord of Transjordan.

“Lord Youssef, I want you to take your men and scout ahead east of Ibelin.”

“Yes, my lord,” he responded, spurring his Arab courser toward where his men rode in the column, he called them from the formation.

They quickly rode out along the coast before turning inland to pass east of Ibelin. They were all armed in a similar fashion to Youssef. A hardened leather vest interweaved with quilted silk and steel plates guarded their torsos. They all had quivers strapped across their backs. When they had rode out from the column, they had all strung their bows which were now secured to their saddles. They were all armed with either a sword or axe as well.

After an hour they could see Ibelin to the northwest. All around them they could see the devastation that Salah al-Din’s army had wreaked. The burned fields in the countryside surrounding Ibelin, with smoke rising in the distance from the village of Ramla itself. Night was beginning to fall and the distant campfires could be seen to the east.

They had yet to come across any significant Saracen force. It seemed as if the majority of Salah al-Din’s cavalry was north, raiding near Lydda and Arsuf.

* * * * *

When they reached the head of the Frankish column it was already dark. Youssef reported to Baldwin and Reynald what he had seen. He had left scouts out in the field and continued to get frequent reports as their host continued on through the night, driven by the will of their ailing king. Baldwin had acquiesced to riding in a litter, but only after much insistence by his seneschal and regent.

Their night was free of attack and by morning, their scouts reported they were within five miles of Salah al-Din’s camp. They had been heading inland for several hours, using the low lying hills to screen their movements as much as possible. The Bishop of Bethlehem had accompanied them with the True Cross. His face dripping with sweat even though the autumn air was cool and the sun was far less unforgiving.

One of Youssef’s men rode in out of breath about midmorning.

“Lord Youssef! Salah al-Din’s baggage train has become mired  in the mud. His rear-guard has not been able to keep contact with the main column!”

Without bothering to respond, Youssef spurred his mount to the head of the cavalry column motioning his man to follow him. Once to the king and Reynald, he motioned for his man to repeat his report. The effect was what Youssef had anticipated.

“Heavy cavalry to the center, have the infantry in the vanguard form the left wing, my lord seneschal, the command is yours,” the lord of Transjordan ordered, “my lords Baudouin and Balian,” he said, addressing the brothers Ibelin, “The command of the right wing is yours. Once the center charges, attempt to cut off their retreat south.”

The changes took place as they still moved forward. In the center a force of almost a thousand cavalry was the main thrust of the attack. The heavy Frankish knights in their full body mail, carrying heavy lances, and on their large steeds. Youssef and his men rode with the king.

They could see dust and smoke rising in the distance as they neared Ibelin and Tell Jazaar, or Montgisard, as the Franks called it. After rounding a turn, the Muslim baggage train came into view, mired in the mud of a wadi. The Frankish forces urged their horses to a high speed, leaving their foot soldiers behind. Salah al-Din’s rear guard realized too late their peril as they scrambled to form battle lines.

“Deus le volt!”

The battle cry of the kingdom rang out down the line of mailed warriors. The heavy cavalry charge crashed over the Muslim rear guard like waves against sand, killing hundreds in an instant. Horses on both sides broke their necks in the crash. Knights thrown from their mounts were quickly trampled; however, the majority of the Frankish cavalry continued on, as the Frankish infantry followed into the broken lines, killing what remained of the shocked Muslim troops.

Following the few fleeing survivors of the rear guard, they soon came into sight of part of Salah al-Din’s main body. Like the rear guard, however, the alarm was too late. As the Franks moved their horses to a hard gallop, Youssef glanced towards their center at the king who had insisted on riding into battle. Flanked by Reynald de Chatillon and his household knights, his illness seemed a thing of the past.

Looking back up, Youssef saw the yellow and green standard of Salah al Din, marking the Sultan’s presence in the field. The Frankish knights yelled their battle cry once more and pushed deep into the hastily assembled Muslim lines.

Youssef impaled a rider with his lance and unsheathed his sword. He pushed his horse towards another opponent, making quick work of him. He was in the vanguard, with the King, Reynald de Chatillon, Hugh de St Omer, and several other knights. Before he realized it, they had pushed to the center of the Muslim host, facing the elite Mamluk bodyguard of Salah al-Din.

The Mamluks were Eastern European, Slavic, and Turkish, soldiers, who had been taken from their families as young boys and sold as slaves into Muslim houses. Raised from a very young age in the art of war, they were the backbone of the Muslim army.

The fighting had slowed as the fleeing Muslims beginning to rally; however, the Franks knew that if the Sultan was to fall, the battle would be won. With this thought they threw themselves at Salah al-Din’s Mamluks.

Youssef found himself fighting a giant of a man, armed with a long curved sword called a shamshir and a shield. He pushed his mount towards the man and at the last moment threw himself at the giant. Both ended up on the ground, but only a moment before they were back on their feet. Youssef gave the man no time to regain his bearings and immediately charged, parrying a strike with his sword, before bringing his fist into contact with the man’s throat. The shock was enough for Youssef to drive home the killing strike.

The king’s men pushed forward, giving no quarter. Youssef parried a spear thrust, closing with the wielder and killing him a fluid motion. The ground became slippery with blood as the killing continued, but Youssef could feel the wave of battle pushing them forward.

Thirty paces away, Youssef saw one of Hugh de St Omer’s household knights lunge at the Sultan, whose horse reared, taking the blow in the neck. As the knight was killed instantly by one of the Mamluks, Salah al-Din deftly rolled off the falling horse.

Another adversary occupied Youssef for another moment, before he was quickly killed by the now surging Frankish forces.

Cheering caught his attention, and he looked in time to see Salah al-Din fleeing on camelback, only a handful of his bodyguards behind him. His colors, left behind, lay in the dirt surrounded by the Sultan’s dead Mamluks.

Reynald was urging on them on, and Youssef knew he was right. A commander as skilled as Salah al-Din could still rally his troops if given time. Remounted, they pushed on, but found no formed battle lines, only fleeing soldiers, leaving behind weapons, armor, and other spoils of war. Those that surrendered were taken prisoner, others were quickly dispatched. As they came to a halt, Reynald sent out lieutenants to continue the rout of the Muslim army, pushing them back towards Egypt.

Their losses had been heavy.They would find later they had suffered almost two thousand casualties, with over a thousand dead. The eight hundred wounded Franks were evacuated to the Hospital of St. John in Jerusalem.

Despite this, their mood was euphoric, for their losses were nothing compared to the decimation they had dealt to Salah al-Din. The rout continued for the next ten days, as more of the Muslim soldiers were taken prisoner and killed. Salah al-Din evaded capture, eventually making it back to Egypt; however, only ten percent of his army had survived.

* * * * *

A great feast was held in Jerusalem, celebrating the victory and the king that had lead them. Youssef watched the revelries with pride in his king, whose determination and courage had done so much to bring them the victory; however, he could not help but feel a melancholy at the same time. It would only be a matter of time before the combination of the king’s failing health and the might of Salah al-Din’s empire would place them in jeopardy once again. He looked out on the laughing, smiling faces, wondering which would be missing in a year. He forced himself out of his mood. Worries for another time. Today, they would drink.

______________________________________________________________

Dr. David Hourani is a medical doctor and student of Middle Eastern and Crusader history.

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Manassas

By Bruce Bullen

A young man dressed in a butternut uniform and carrying a rifle is looking out my window, waiting for Yankees. He was standing in my bedroom when they brought me up. There were others like him at the windows on the first floor. I guess they thought we had left for good and wouldn’t be coming back. I know that John and Ellen meant well. They wanted to move me out of harm’s way, so when the shooting quieted down a bit they carried me downstairs with Lucy Griffith’s help and took me to the spring house. I was holding on to the sides of the mattress trying to keep from rolling off the whole way. When we got there I told them I couldn’t bear to leave my house after so many years. The sound of the guns and the smell of smoke were as bad at the spring house as they were up here. I begged and begged until they took me back home.

I’m just an old woman, frail and sickly. I live in Henry House on Henry Hill. Their real names are Spring Hill Farm and Spring Hill. We never say Henry House or Henry Hill, but that’s what people around here like to say. I’ve lived on the farm for close to forty years, and there isn’t a more beautiful piece of property in the Commonwealth to my way of thinking. The farm itself has been fallow for years, cedar and pine are taking over, but the pastures dip as gracefully as always, the catbirds mew, and the scents are fresh, or at least they were until the shooting started.

It’s hot today, it has been for days, and the noise is enough to make you deaf. I’ve been bedridden so long I don’t remember the farm in summer. I’ve lost track of everything but the sounds. I hear the birds, the wind, and Ellen’s voice when she’s outside tending to things. Now, the familiar sounds are gone.

We heard guns in the distance at 5:30 this morning. I was dreaming of my Althea flowers, my pride. Some call them Rose of Sharon. The guns startled me and I woke up. Every so often a hunter comes by, but these guns weren’t hunting guns. The din was like nothing I ever heard before, and it kept up all morning. I could see that John and Ellen were upset. They kept running back and forth to my bedroom from the first floor asking if I was all right, talking to each other about what to do, thinking that I couldn’t hear them. What is it, I said? What is it? Yankees, they said.

I don’t fear the Yankees. My husband, Isaac, was a Yankee, and I’ve always been comfortable up north. It’s been a long time since Isaac died, 1829, not long after we moved here. We didn’t get to enjoy it together long. After Isaac died, I tried keeping up the farm, raised the children, and tended the garden, but it wasn’t the same without him.  My daughter, Ellen, lives with me now and has been such a help. My son, Hugh, is here when he isn’t at school. My son John happens to be visiting, while Hugh is away. I hired Lucy, a neighbor’s slave, to help Ellen with the chores, since I’m such a burden. Everyone is so worried and anxious, pacing about and wringing their hands. The soldiers tell me that I should leave because it’s too dangerous, but I’m not leaving again. I’m staying put no matter what happens. I worry about John and Ellen though, and of course Lucy.

The railroad junction is why they’re fighting. The RF&P line runs from Richmond to the Potomac –  the link between North and South, some say. That “link” meant something different a few months ago. Ellen has been telling me for weeks that Confederate soldiers were gathering at Manassas, but I didn’t believe her. The fight is about controlling the station, otherwise why come to Manassas? The Yankees want an easy run to Richmond, and the Confederates want to stop them. It’s very odd, having two Capitals so close together. It’s enough to make a person dizzy. I hope the fighting moves to Manassas, where it ought to be.

I don’t get many headaches, but my head has been pounding like the dickens all morning. It must be the guns. They sound closer. Ellen has been so kind, asking if I want anything like the good child she is, but when she tries to bring me water or tea her hands shake so much she has trouble holding the cups. Ellen, I say to her, it’s going to be all right. She doesn’t want to believe me. Lucy does her best to act brave, but I can see in her eyes that she is terrified. John tells them both to calm down, but he’s beside himself. I guess I’m not worried as much as they are. Who would harm a bedridden old woman and her family in such a beautiful place? Hugh sent Ellen a letter a while back, when rumors about Manassas first started. He said that our helplessness would make us safe if the troops ever passed through. I think he’s right. This war is nothing but a dispute between people who don’t see eye to eye on a few things. We’ve had trouble like it before, from the beginning in fact. When both sides see how determined the other is, they’ll sit down and work things out like gentlemen. I do wish this pounding in my head would stop. It hurts like the devil.

I often think about Isaac. He was a surgeon on the Constellation under Commodore Truxton, one of the first US Navy Captains commissioned by George Washington himself. Isaac was born and raised in Philadelphia, but he went all over the world, or so it seemed, serving his country on the Constellation. He was a good man who always did his duty, and he was a loving husband and father. We met after the country had fought to be free and were so proud to be on our own, thanks to the courage of great men from different states (colonies, I guess they were then) – George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton – half of them Virginians, I’m proud to say. Isaac and I felt lucky to be alive at such a time. I wonder what he would think if he were here today?

I’m 84, older than the country itself. I’ve had a full life. A few weeks back was the anniversary of the Declaration, but not too many noticed. If they did it was to claim the Declaration for themselves, depending which side they’re on. Times have surely changed. Who would have thought Virginia would leave the country it worked so hard to shape? But I’m a Carter. Virginia is my state, and if we can’t be part of the Union then I guess we’ll have to be on our own like we were before. It’s too bad, and awfully confusing.

I’m tired and nod off occasionally, even though the sound of gunfire shakes the bedroom. I dream about old Virginia. My great-grandfather Robert “King” Carter was one of the great men around here in the early days. He had the biggest tobacco plantation and more slaves than anyone else. My grandfather Landon wrote a famous journal about life before the Revolution called The Diary of Colonel Landon Carter and lived just long enough to see the country win its freedom. My father Landon Jr. built Pittsylvania. It’s a grand place, but he had a hard time keeping it up. He used to say there was nothing those British wouldn’t try to tax and no price they wouldn’t try to squeeze. Was he ever glad to be rid of them! I had eight brothers and sisters. Daddy was a great family man, a real gentleman. He liked everybody, and everybody liked him.

The young man with the rifle is shooting out my window, and I can hear more shooting downstairs. John is shouting at him to stop, but he says he’s got his orders. If they shoot at Yankees from the house, won’t the Yankees shoot back? I’m sure they have respect for private property and must know that we Henry’s are peace-loving civilians, but if there are shots coming from the house won’t they be confused? I can hear shouting, gunfire, and tramping outside, as if it were in my backyard. The smoke is so heavy you’d think the day had clouded over.

I worry about the Robinsons and how they are faring through all the noise and commotion. I hope they’re safe. Gentleman Jim is hard-working and resourceful, so I suspect they will be. Ellen told me he moved the whole household to the Van Pelt’s and came back to secure his house. That would be like him. I hope he doesn’t get caught up in this turmoil. Jim and I are like family. We care deeply about each other and our families. Both of us were born at Pittsylvania. I feel bad for him, having two sons sold down south like they were, but it didn’t stop him from working extra hard to care for his family. Ellen says the roadhouse is doing better and better every month.

Jim’s mother was a free woman – she was a slave of my Daddy’s, but I guess he decided to make her free. At any rate, Jim was born free. We had the same tutor at Pittsylvania, so I know he’s an educated man. Being born free also meant that he was automatically landed, and he was able to buy the house near Bull Run in the 1840’s. He raised eight children in it and owns even more acreage now. When he married Sukey, she wasn’t free, and he had to find a way to buy her freedom and freedom for as many of their children as he could afford. He nearly succeeded, but for Alfred and James. He just couldn’t buy their freedom fast enough. Jim is a determined man, everything he touches seems to pay – his farm, his businesses. He’s a regular tycoon. People say he’s one of the richest freedmen in Virginia. Jim was a special favorite of my Daddy’s, and he treated Jim and his mother with great respect. To me, Jim is like a little brother. I’m proud of him. I wouldn’t want this war or anything else to keep him from being able to make a good life for himself.

John keeps running back and forth, up and down the stairs. He says the armies are getting closer to Spring Hill. Why don’t the Confederates make their stand at Manassas, I ask him?  It’s what they’re fighting over after all. He says they tried to stop the Yankees at Bull Run and now it looks like they decided to stop running and are making a stand. The shooting outside is growing steadier, and John says that reinforcements are being brought up. He says we should have left when we had the chance. Why would they want to fight over Spring Hill, I ask? What use could it be to them? John says he doesn’t know, it’s just where they want to fight. The aching in my head is getting worse. It’s like everything I ever took for granted is breaking into pieces. I’ll lie here quietly and try to put them back together again when the fighting’s over.

It’s madness that a country would pull itself apart over a few disagreements. Especially when it had such a hard time coming together in the first place. We were more tolerant of each other in the early days. There were differences of opinion, of course, but we knew we had a job to do and had a long struggle ahead of us. People set aside their differences and realized they had to make sacrifices. I hated that Isaac was away on the Constellation for as long as he was, but I knew it was necessary for the good of the country. I can’t believe that in a few short years, in my lifetime, people could have forgotten what happened back then and what makes our country so great. Too many of us let our differences get in the way. The people of Virginia are struggling, I know, and they aren’t happy with the way things have been going. The plantations aren’t what they used to be, and the slave question never gets settled, but there are people like Gentleman Jim who know how to make their way. We should give them a chance. They could show us something, help get us back on our feet. But the Yankees are stubborn. They won’t recognize that we’re Virginians first, that we have a proud history and our own way of life. They forget that we had the idea of bringing all the states together in the first place. I’m sure both sides will see the danger before it’s too late. I’m too old and too loyal to Isaac to think any other way. If they were here now, I know both Isaac and Daddy would tell me not to worry, to have faith.

John is back upstairs. He says that a Yankee soldier entered the hallway downstairs and that one of the snipers shot him dead. Ellen was standing there when it happened and is hysterical with fear. Poor Ellen. She needs to pull herself together. John says he wants to move me someplace safer, but he doesn’t know where and thinks it’s too late anyway. I tell him not to worry, I’ll be fine where I am. Poor Lucy Griffith looks like she’s about ready to faint.

John went downstairs and came back again, anxious and at loose ends, saying that both armies are bringing up cannon and preparing for some kind of confrontation. The gunfire outside just doesn’t stop. I tell John and Lucy to let me be and turn my face to the wall, wondering if the precious innocence of our country could actually die here at Spring Hill. I can’t believe it will be so.

We’re a peaceful, law-abiding family living in our own house, a patriotic family. The land the house sits on is abundant and undisturbed. The house and the farm are known to everyone in Virginia. I’m an old woman, a Carter, the wife of Isaac Henry, lying bedridden on the second floor, hoping the country will come to its senses. If Spring Hill turns out to be the place where the two armies meet, I know in my bones that all of us will be fine. Common sense is going to win out, and they’ll let us be. They cannot be intending to destroy our traditions and beliefs. I’ll just lie here and hope. I believe it’s my duty. Both sides need to remember the promises our fathers and forefathers made.

The big guns are booming, and the house is shaking. Smoke and fire are visible outside my windows. Ellen comes running upstairs with her hands over her ears. John is holding my hand, trying to comfort me, but his head is hanging down and he’s not doing a good job of it. John, I say to him, be proud, everything will be all right. I look into his eyes and see a fear that I’ve never seen before.

I wish Isaac were here. He would know how to take charge of things, how to deal with the Yankees and the children’s fears. He was never one to be afraid of a little pressure. But he’s not here, and I need to be strong for Ellen, for John, for Lucy and myself. We’ve worked too hard to let fear get the better of us. Isaac used to tell me about the many dangers he faced while serving on the Constellation. I couldn’t understand how he endured them. Now, it’s my turn to be strong. I’m not leaving this house, ever again. I won’t show that I’m afraid. I trust in our people and our traditions. The armies can fight over the railway junction at Manassas all they want, but I’m sure there are plenty of good young men on both sides who will have the decency to honor the sanctity of our farm and family. I may be a bedridden old woman, but I know when to stand up for what’s right.

The shooting is louder and faster now. I can hear the rumble of cannons. A ball struck the side of the house. It must be an errant shot. Who would intentionally shoot at our house? The jolt from the impact upset John tremendously, and he has gone downstairs to to tell both sides, if he has to, that there are civilians inside. I hope he’ll be all right and won’t do anything foolish. Ellen looks paralyzed with fear. She doesn’t know what to do and keeps leaping back and forth, unsure whether she should try to help me or cower in the fireplace. Another ball strikes the side of house, this time higher up. Ellen, I say, stay put in the fireplace. Lucy is running from one corner of the room to another, startled  by the booming of the cannons. It’s enough to make one lightheaded. Lucy, I say, get under the bed, if you’re scared. Under the bed.

The noise outside is deafening, but I’m at peace. The worst is underway. We need only brave it, endure it, outlast it, and we will save ourselves. Isaac and Daddy would be proud. I’m Judith Carter Henry, and I won’t be banished or exiled. This is my land, my country, my family. Everything will survive. It must. But my poor hedge… my bushes… my red and white Althea flowers….

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Bruce Bullen is a retired health care executive. He is unpublished and recently returned to writing fiction full-time. An avid reader of American history, particularly the period between the Revolution and the Civil War, he found the link between the two periods and the paradox inherent in the Judith Henry story both interesting and relevant. In addition to historical fiction, Bruce has produced several collections of short fiction, including fifteen fables and ten stories about the inner workings of government.

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Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Written by Samantha Silva

Published by Flatiron Books

288 pages

Review by Meredith Allard

 

The caveat for this novel comes after the story where author Samantha Silva notes what most of us figured out while we were reading–that this is not a biographical sketch of how A Christmas Carol came to be but an imaginative “What if” about how Dickens might have come to write the world’s second most famous Christmas story. The Dickensians among us might easily fall into the trap of thinking “This didn’t happen,” “That didn’t happen,” and “There’s no way on earth that ever happened.” To fully enjoy this book we need to leave what we know about Dickens aside and simply enjoy the novel for what it is, a sweet retelling of the classic story using Dickens himself as the Scrooge who needs to discover the true meaning of Christmas. I highly recommend this novel for those who love Dickens, love his Carol, and are looking for a unique retelling of the tale.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

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Maid of Baikal: A Speculative Historical Novel of the Russian Civil War

Written by Preston Fleming

Review from The Copperfield Review

 

 

Maid of Baikal by Preston Fleming is a speculative historical novel, as it states in the book’s title. Fans of traditional historical fiction should be warned that this is a “What if?” novel based on the question “What if the White Russian army won the Russian civil war?”

The story of Maid of Baikal centers around Zhanna Dorokhina, a romanticized version of Joan of Arc who strives to beat back the Bolsheviks through military force. Like Joan of Arc, Zhanna believes she is on a divine mission as she leads her army, in this case the White Russian army against the Bolsheviks. The battle scenes were well written and compelling, and I found myself rooting for Zhanna to win. I felt as though I was there in Russia since the descriptions were so vivid and specific.

As an avid reader of historical fiction I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did. Normally I don’t care for alternative historical fiction because it defies the reason I like to read historical fiction, which is that I get to learn about the past. Even though some of the details presented in Maid of Baikal are the result of imagination, there is still a lot of history to learn here about the Bolsheviks, the Russian civil war, and Russia itself.

Creating a Tolstoy-like epic, Fleming shares a realistic, vivid world within the Russian civil war with rich, multi-dimensional characters that reveal various aspects of humanity as seen in war time, all made more fascinating by the question “What if?” If you love historical fiction and you’re open to speculative circumstances different to that of historical facts, then you will enjoy Maid of Baikal by Preston Fleming. Readers with an interest in Russia and Russian history will also enjoy this novel.

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Soaring With Vultures

Written by Dan Kelly

Review from The Copperfield Review

 

I was pleasantly surprised by Dan Kelly’s novel Soaring With Vultures. Soaring With Vultures takes place in Missouri after the end of the Civil War, and though the war itself has ended there is still violence to contend with. Soaring With Vultures is told from the point of view of Leslie Warner, who must watch as his family suffers in the aftermath of the war. Leslie’s sister, Sallie, is embroiled in a bitter divorce, and Sam Nutter, the man she divorces, is a less than savory character. Nutter wages his own war against the Warner family, leading to a murder trial.

Soaring With Vultures has the feel of a western with good guys versus bad guys, so fans of westerns will particularly like this novel. Author Dan Kelly manages to make the murder trial suspenseful, not an easy task when so many murder trials abound in books, television, and film. The history shared in Soaring With Vultures is particularly fascinating, especially for readers who haven’t read much about life during this post Civil War period in Missouri. The story is based on true life events, which adds a certain validity for fans of historical fiction who like their fiction to contain as much historical fact as possible. Soaring With Vultures has been carefully researched, and Kelly has paid a lot of attention to detail, also important elements for fans of historical fiction.

Kelly has an easy to read, conversational writing style, and he pulls readers into the story through allowing the characters, and the facts, to speak for themselves. Readers with a taste for post Civil War fiction, westerns, or murder mysteries will enjoy Soaring With Vultures.

 

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Pale Bird Woman

By Dennis Humphrey

Wehnd’kehto of the Fisted Foot scanned the foaming edge where the Great Water beat against the stony land. The gray wet of the sky spirits spread out upon the dark stones as well, falling from their home in the mists above, not heavy, as in the warm moons long ago, but in small, stinging drops, driven by the wind that touches frost. White birds turned and laughed their shrill derision above, “Kay-ah, kay-ah!” Wehnd’kehto  paid them little attention as he limped along on his gnarled foot. He knew their cries were meant to distract him. Sometimes, gifts waited at the water’s edge, placed by the Great Water himself, and the jealous birds wanted them for themselves. Other times flippered beasts dragged themselves from the water to bellow, and he could pierce one with his spear for meat and furs. This day, he did not know what to think of what he found.

He had been alone on his tiny, water-circled land for more round moons than he had fingers, since the day his people set him here upon these same stones. They drove him from the raft of logs at the stone points of their spears. They spoke no words. None were needed, and words were not to be used lightly. Not then. He cast a last look that asked if there were another way. He knew there was not. Since the raft had gone beyond seeing into the mists, he had seen no other people. He looked at his feet, one straight, one crooked. There, in the sodden earth between them was a track that was not his own. He tightened his grip around the shaft of the simple spear he had cut from a green sapling with the edge of a broken stone. His small, water-circled land had none of the stone that was good for chipping into spear points. His spear was tipped with a tooth from some beast of the sea, one of the gifts left by the Great Water at the foaming edge. It was as large and as sharp as any stone point. He breathed out, and his breath showed white as the wind bore it away, a small part of Wehnd’kehto’s spirit given to the wind and sky. For luck. He followed the tracks, leaning on spear as he would a walking staff as he limped toward a group of great stones that stood near the water.

As he neared, he heard a soft cry. He felt his hairs stand up off his skin beneath the furs he wore. Between the stones, out of the wind, he saw a woman, face down on the sand. He hobbled to her, rolled her over. Dark water plants tangled all around her. Her skin was as pale as a fish belly, her hair like the setting sun. He shuddered to touch them. She opened her eyes, and made as if to speak, but her words, barely a sigh, were as the talk of the white birds riding the air above, “Kay-ah, kay-ah!

“Pale woman!” he said in the sacred tongue of his people. “Why do you cry with the tongue of the birds?” These few words were an extravagance, and in the dark recesses of his mind, his shadow self cowered, expecting reprisal from the wind spirits. But it had been long since he had last spoke any words at all. So long.

The woman brought one hand to his bearded face. “Kay-ah, kay-ah!” she sighed again. Though her tongue spoke only to the birds, her eyes bade him help her. He draped the furs from his own shaggy shoulders over the woman and carried her by the worn path to his dwelling. There, in a hollow of the mountain, he had kept alive the fire he had found after a storm, fed it dry wood day and night. He regarded it as a beast he had found, barely alive, that he had nursed back to health and domesticated. Now they lived together, sole companions, he feeding it to keep it alive, it giving him warmth, roasting his meat to make the fat drip and flesh brown. Wehnd’kehto placed the pale woman by the fire’s warmth, covered her with more furs, and with a vessel carved from the bones of the flippered beast, he fed her those rich drippings that run from meat placed before the fire to brown. Soon, she fell into a deep sleep.

When she awoke, the sun had gone to its long sleep. Wehnd’kehto sat on the far side of the fire from her. She looked quickly about, much as the small furry beasts that dart among the rocks when the cry of the taloned bird pierces the air.

“Pale bird woman,” he said, daring to use words again. “You can stay with me.”

She looked like she did not understand, but she calmed, though still remaining wary. She looked him over, but then saw the gnarled foot, and stood. “Kay-ah-ah-ah!” she cried, and darted out into the dark. The sky flashed, rumbled, and he lost sight of her in the dark wind and rain. Wehnd’kehto’s shadow self taunted him then. He tottered over to a small cache of dried leaves he kept in the dry of dwelling, but out of reach of the fire’s hungry tongue. He cast a handful into the flames, which eagerly devoured them and breathed out the sweet smoke. Wehnd’kehto hoped the wind spirits would forgive him.

As the sun’s first light spread across the sky, Wehnd’kehto set out to look for the pale woman again. The wind spirits’ rage and sky fire had calmed, and a quiet breeze was all that remained to remind him the wind spirits were still watching. Weakened as the pale woman was when she had run from his home, he did not need to look for long. He found her again at the water’s edge, soaked, cold, but alive. Though weak as the softest breeze, the living wind still flowed into and out of her. Perhaps the wind did forgive him. He puffed out a white cloud of breath in a long, warbled cry in the cool morning air to express his thanks, but he dared not speak words and risk angering the wind again.

He lifted her head from the cold sand. She sought to pull away, but was too weak. He took her pale hand, and placed it against the brown skin of his arm. She saw the pale against the dark that was the common color of the people, and her gaze fell to the sand. He stroked the pale skin of her hand gently, and she raised her eyes again. Then he placed her pale hand on his twisted foot. He moved her hand so it stroked the gnarled foot. Her eyes met his, a light in them now. “Koo-oh,” she cooed, as the plump, soft-gray birds do in the first light of dawn. Wehnd’kehto thought about her bird speak, and thought about those creatures, so favored by the winds that they were permitted to ride high upon them, above all other creatures. The birds were permitted to sing. Perhaps she spoke as the birds because the winds loved to hear them.

“Koo-ooh,” he cooed back to the Pale Bird Woman, and he lifted her from the wet sand. She stroked his beard with her pale hand and cooed and cooed to him in a long soothing song as he hobbled back up the worn path toward the warm fire.

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Dennis Humphrey teaches writing and literature at Prince William Sound College in Valdez, Alaska. He has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and his fiction has appeared in storySouth, Prick of the Spindle, BloodLotus, SN Review, Toad Suck Review, and Collateral.

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The Trail

By Katie Frankel

By the time we even reached the jumping-off place in Missouri, we had been traveling for what I naïvely thought was quite some time. Though my sisters – even Sarah, who had dreaded leaving Tennessee almost as much as I – had slowly yet steadily let the sadness of leaving fade away, I myself felt I could not. I was silent, speaking nearly not a word the entire way to the jumping-off place in Missouri, my heart feeling heavy in my chest. None of my family members could lure me away from my broken heart and sullen mood, and they eventually stopped trying.

I knew hardly a thing about the Oregon Trail, only that it led to both Oregon and California where land was free despite the Indians who surrounded it. Though he wouldn’t admit it, I did not think that Jack knew very much about the trail either, only what his friend knew and had told them. My brother had warned us all that, at times, the journey would prove challenging, but our trouble would be well worth it to reap the reward that would await us.

There were very many other wagons already in Missouri, far more than I had imagined. So many families awaited their departure that we could not even leave right away, instead having to wait for several days before finally being able to start out on the official trail. Even with waiting, our wagon train was long, wagons following ours as far as I could see.

Jack told me that for the first part of our journey we would be traveling on land that was long and yellow, allowing the river to guide us until we finally reached the mountain region. It was May now and the weather was mostly warm and pleasant, save for some slightly cooler nights. There was always a lot going on during our time on the Oregon Trail, both while traveling and while resting at night. Even after a long day of travel, Jack and Carissa both had things they had to tend to, with Carissa leaving two-year-old Joshua in my care during the time. There was always seemingly endless amounts of work to be done while traveling both in the wagon and out, from changing and oiling the wheel axels to taking care of the oxen and horses, and then finally, taking care of the people.

I was surprised to see that Carissa by no means was the only woman traveling with a young child; there were actually quite a few expectant mothers and mothers with children much younger than Joshua. Depending on how long each family decided to travel, I knew that some mothers would be giving birth on the trail and, recalling Carissa’s difficult birth, I was very grateful that she was not due to have another child.

Despite the large number of children traveling on the Oregon Trail, Jack had forbidden my sisters and me from wandering off with them; though I did not have desire to do so, I knew that my other sisters did. My brother warned us that children could get lost for days among the long wagon train and we witnessed this first hand only about ten days into our journey. A family traveling just two wagons up from ours became frantic one evening during rest when they could not find their five-year-old son. The mother was inconsolable, and although Carissa would not admit it, I knew that the other mother’s grief struck fear in her. The boy was not found for two days later when he finally reappeared, dirty and hungry. I knew it could have been much worse.

Many of the other families on the trail had oxen to pull their wagons but no horses, and although I feared Jack would consider them a burden, I was grateful that we had our three horses. I felt that Scout was a part of Connor always with me, though I continued to mourn for him every day. Just like three years prior when we had first moved to the Smiths’ farm, I rode Scout bareback on the trail often, and he seemed happy to oblige as he walked forward proudly. Each time I sat on the Paint’s back I felt a mixture of comfort and sorrow, my longing for Connor so overwhelming sitting aboard the horse who was so dear to him.

Sarah was friends with a family of seven children from age three to fifteen, and the older ones filled my head with countless terrors of horrible things that could happen to anyone on the Trail; we could be attacked by Indians, drown while crossing water, freeze to death or die of thirst, and an abundance of other terrible fates. Despite these warnings, Jack still seemed confident and I trusted his judgment completely, sure he wouldn’t knowingly put any of us in danger.

We were roughly halfway between our jumping-off place and Fort Laramie when something horrible happened.

We had been traveling for many miles and the sun had grown extremely hot at times during the day, but the weather was unpredictable. At times, we were pelted with hail bigger than the hoof of a horse, or had to wait out rainstorms that seemed to be never ending. However, the challenging weather was nothing compared to what happened to Annie.

She was nine, and her family drove the wagon that was usually in front of us. All of us children, even me, had become comfortable and accustomed to traveling and admittedly a bit careless. All of the older children frequently got off and on the wagons even while they were in motion to walk, meet up with other kids, or ride horses if they had any.

Jack used to allow Sarah and me to jump off the wagon at any point, but Hanna and Gracie were still too small. One day when Sarah jumped off, she landed hard and badly twisted her ankle, unable to walk for two days. After that Jack, forbid us from jumping off while the wagon was in motion, but Annie’s parents didn’t mind so much and allowed her to continue to do so.

I’m not sure what Annie planned to do when she jumped off that day, but in the end, it didn’t matter. As Jack stared ahead while driving, Annie jumped off the wagon as she usually did, but this time, the skirt of her dress became snagged on part of the wagon as she did so. The fabric did not rip but instead, drug Annie underneath.

“Stop! Stop!” Jack screamed at the top of his lungs, startling me so badly I leapt up from my seat in the wagon. Annie’s father immediately pulled back the oxen, but by the time he was able to fully bring them to a halt, it was too late; the wheels of the wagon had already completely crushed Annie’s body, the sound of her bones crunching sickly recognizable.

She didn’t die right away. The screams were atrocious, bloodcurdling; not only from Annie, but from her mother and father and siblings. The noise was deafening and brutal and the rest of us wept inside the wagon, even Carissa. By the end of the day, Annie was dead but the nightmare was far from over.

Because we were traveling in the middle of nowhere, the men had no choice but to dig Annie a shallow grave right on the side of the trail. There was not time to dig it extremely deep, and I knew now from what other children had told me that scavengers were attracted to fresh graves, whether they were animals looking for flesh or humans trying to steal the very clothes off of the deceased’s body. The thought made me so sick that I vomited over the side of the wagon.

Annie was not my first experience with death, yet her death was so extremely different from my mother’s and unlike anything I would have ever been able to imagine. Jack and Carissa were among some of the people who desperately tried to console Annie’s mother and father, and over the next weeks Annie’s mother’s grief was so brutal and crushing that I truly wondered if someone could die from a broken heart.

Everyone in my family dramatically changed after Annie’s death. Jack no longer spoke of traveling to Oregon with excitement and enthusiasm but became solemn, neither he nor Carissa speaking much at all. My sisters and I had lost the desire to explore with the other children, and we oftentimes felt we did not even want to leave the safety of the wagon, packed with supplies as it was. Additionally, I knew that the land we traveled on now was mostly flat and consisted of just tall grasses and streams; up ahead was the mountain region and places that not only put us at higher risk from Indian attacks, but had much more challenging terrain than what we had navigated so far. I suddenly was terrified of continuing to travel on the Oregon Trail, feeling sick the further we traveled and wanting to beg Jack to turn around. Some families did, with Annie’s death by no means being the only tragic occurrence that had happened in our wagon train so far.

 

We travelled for weeks longer. The Platte River was brown and full of silt, yet when there was no other source of water, we had to make due by collecting water from the river, letting it sit for an hour, and mixing in cornmeal to try and sink the silt to the bottom. Even so, the water tasted horrible and because of this, everyone in our wagon train preferred to set up camp near some of the fresh water streams that drained into the Platte River. Although the water tasted better, it held deadly, unknown dangers.

Sometimes after drinking the water, a man, woman, or child would become severely ill with no explanation and die within a day. No one, including my own family, connected the sickness with the water.

We continued to drink the water because it looked so much fresher than the brackish water of the Platte, and it tasted better. We drank this water for weeks as we continued traveling until one day, Carissa, Sarah, and Hanna all become horribly ill. The symptoms were exactly the same as the cases of sickness we had been seeing; the sickness that seemed to kill nearly half of those infected. Though it was morning, we could not continue traveling because they were so ill, quickly becoming extremely dehydrated, their faces and bodies slick with sweat.

“It’s the water,” Annie’s father told us gravely, pursing his lips and shaking his head.

Jack was panicked. “But they’ve hardly drank any of the muddy water. They—”

“Not the Platte water,” the man interrupted impatiently. “The clear water, from the streams. It looks good but it has disease in it. I know it does.”

He didn’t elaborate, but Jack didn’t care; half of our family was dying. Gracie and Joshua clung to me, crying and afraid as my brother desperately tried to keep his wife and our two sisters alive. Despite the fact that they wanted nothing to do with it, he brought them the muddy water to drink, forcing the three of them to continue to drink it because he said their bodies had become so dried up from the inside.

We stayed camped at that one spot for days, the wagon train moving on without us. Jack forbid us to continue to drink from the streams, and the fresh water was no longer so tempting. Once when I went to check on my sisters and Carissa, I thought they were dead, lying pale, sweaty, and motionless in the dirt.

After what seemed like months but was really only about a week, the three began to slowly recover. The process was difficult, with all of them having lost a great deal of weight and strength in the one week they had been sick, barely able to move much at all at first. Finally, though, one by one they did recover, and a few days later, we joined another much smaller wagon train that had come by to resume our journey; only now, Jack no longer wished to.

The challenges of the Oregon Trail had proven torturous and fatal so far, with Jack claiming it was only by God’s grace that all three had survived the sickness. the journey all the way to Oregon was supposed to take only four months, yet we had not even reached Fort Laramie and had been traveling for two months already. Despite the great difficulties that presented themselves ahead, Jack was afraid to turn back. Too late into our journey, Jack decided that bringing us onto the Oregon Trail had been a horrible mistake.

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Katie Frankel is a senior at Texas Wesleyan University majoring in English with a writing concentration. She enjoys writing and reading pieces of historical fiction, browsing antique stores, and riding her horse. She currently lives in Fort Worth and hopes to write professionally.

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Daniel W. Galef

Dagobert to Childebert

 

Poor King! Knew ye strength stems from God alone?

For even Hercules or Samson falters.

I, blood of Merovech, served foreign altars

Since your father stole my locks and throne.

Was I as blind as Samson, too? Perhaps

I thought my power, robbed, lay in my tresses.

In fact, the crown itself, a Robe of Nessus,

Means nothing by the mayors’ pointed caps.

A king is born to rule. So has it stood

Since first the Lord saw fit kings to ordain.

Had I the might of Samson, then I could

Topple Grimoald’s palace round his head;

Instead, I’ll sit and serve my meager reign,

Till those who rule decide I’m better dead.

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Daniel W. Galef has published poetry in Measure, Light Quarterly, and the Lyric, among others. He has also written short fiction, sketch comedy, science & technology journalism, and two musical plays, one of which won the First Prize at the 2016 McGill Drama Festival and the Krivy Award for Excellence in Playwriting. This poem is part of a series of “Imaginary Sonnets” modeled on those composed by Lee-Hamilton in 1888 in his collection of the same title–persona poems that function as verse soliloquies in the voice of literary and historical characters.

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