By Chris Fryer
Inspired by: “The Sword of Bunker Hill” (1861), sung by William Ross Wallace.
Timothy was cleaning Union blood from the barrel of his Springfield rifle when a messenger boy from his village brought word that Tim’s father had been fatally wounded. By horse he rode with demon’s fervor across the valley and between the jagged mountain peaks, making the three-day journey in less than two.
The townspeople eyed him suspiciously that evening. The elders hid their children. It was a time of war; they did not wish to get involved.
In the shadow of the dormant windmill, his father’s home was visible only by the light of a single candle in his father’s bedroom window. Tim tied the wheezing horse to the fence outside the long-forgotten vegetable garden, thinking briefly of his dead mother, then hurried inside.
“Father,” he called out, removing his gloves and his soldier’s cap. There was no response from down the hall. Tim surveyed the home wearily, still ashamed his final memory here left he and his father in a fight and mother, bless her soul, clutching at her weak heart. “Father I’ve come home,” he said, rushing to the faintly glowing bedroom.
The elder man was resting peacefully in bed, a half-smile on his sunken face. A bloodied uniform lay in a heap at the foot of the bed with a dozen sullied bandages. It was startling to see the enemy insignia in his own home, but Tim cared little for allegiances now.
He took his father’s hand, then pulled down the blanket to see the wound, a deep gash below the ribs that looked and smelled of raw beef. It must have been a bullet wound. Tim began to cry, and he kissed his father’s forehead, unable to free the apology stuck in his throat. He sat in a chair near the bed and cried.
* * * * *
William woke from a gunsmoke dream to find himself in company of the pain and his weeping son. He winced in an effort to smile, and he could feel his vision growing dim. His son sobbed into his tattered shirtsleeve, a much more rugged son than left this house nine month ago.
“Weep not, my boy!” William spoke.
Tim looked up with amazement and immediately came to the bedside to take hold of his cold hands. William could see in his tear-softened face that the young man looked so much like his mother, and he was grateful that he would die in the presence of family.
“I bow to heaven’s high will,” he said to his son, turning to face the wall opposite the foot of the bed. Tim nodded with solemn understanding. “But quickly, from yon antlers bring the Sword of Bunker Hill.”
Tim did as he was told, fetching the heavy sword from its nook in the antlers of a buck they’d hunted together, two summers ago, long before the attack on Fort Sumter. His son paused a moment as if he, too, felt the hum of a primal power in that weapon. When the handle was set in William’s hands, his eyes brightened like a lamp given fresh oil. He grasped the ancient sword, admiring its fine carvings along the handle, the subtle etchings in the silver blade.
“Warren,” he murmured, recalling the face of his friend who’d been slain by this sword when its wielder surprised them from the shadows.
“My boy,” said William, “I leave you gold but what is richer still, I leave you, mark me, mark me now, the Sword of Bunker Hill.” With what little energy he had left, he sat upright and ignored the searing pain. With vigor he explained, “Twas on that dread immortal day, I dared the Briton’s hand. A captain raised this blade on me. I tore it from his hand.” William paused, closing his eyes. Then, with a serene gaze of admiration upon the sword, he said, “And while the glorious battle raged, it lighted freedom’s will. For, boy, the God of freedom blessed the Sword of Bunker Hill.”
A tear trembled down his cheek and splashed upon the sheets. He reclined against the headrest, accepting his defeat. Locking eyes with his boy, whose lips quivered but chin sat stern, William said, “Oh keep the sword.” He smiled, expelling his last breath. Before his son’s eyes he passed from this life to the next.
* * * * *
His father’s hand still clutched the sword, wrapped tightly around its handle. Tim dared not pry away those fingers. He sat once again to cry, overwhelmed by all the death this war had brought. Allegiances be damned–Tim wanted to kill the man who struck his father down. He buried his father in a coffin bought the next day from an old family friend, and with a small audience they prayed for him to rest well in heaven with his wife, Tim’s lovely mother.
* * * * *
“The son is gone,” said the guide. “The sword remains, it’s glory growing still.”
What had once been a small village where a few dozen homes were rivaled in size only by a measly windmill was now a sprawling metropolis. The couple was new to the city and the wife thought it would be a good idea to take one of the touristy tours to get a good feeling for the area. Plus, she loved history, and she ate up every last word of the guide’s Civil War tale.
The old man waved an arm at the bustling city spread below them. With a knowing smile he said, “And eighty millions bless the sire, the Sword of Bunker Hill.”
“It’s still buried somewhere in the city?” asked the wife.
The old man winked, and nothing more.
Chris Fryer has pursued a passion for writing since the day he discovered the alluring clack of typewriter keys. Aiming toward a career teaching English overseas, his plan is to write fiction, travel, and teach creative writing along the way. He graduated with an English degree from Sonoma State University and is currently completing Sacramento State’s Master’s TESOL program.