Monday, January 24, 2011


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
January, 1778

The sleet rattled the windows, and freezing rain turned the street into icy mush, but inside, the inn glowed with the warmth of the fire, the flowing beer, the laughter and shouting, and the punching and the kicking and the smashing furniture. Here a British soldier, complete with red coat and tricorn hat, walloped an American farmer with his mug; there, a patriotic silversmith smashed a chair over the head of a British cannoneer; over here, the innkeeper cringed behind his bar and shouted ineffectually for everyone to in Jesus's name stop, just stop.

Isaac Pledger rushed in, shouting for quiet, and when that didn't work, he fired his pistol into the air. The bar fight subsided. Americans looked at him defiantly, and the British soldiers looked at him sheepishly.

"Rogers, Bentley, Simpson, Thomas," said Isaac wearily. "Get back to quarters and sober up. I'll deal with you later."

As the soldiers shuffled out of the bar, and the Americans sat back down with their drinks, he sighed and went over to the innkeeper. "I apologize, Mr. Enfield. I can pay for damages."

The innkeeper named a sum twice what was fair, and grumbled that it wasn't going to make up for lost business, but Isaac paid it silently. "And one more beer," he added. "For me."

Isaac took his beer and sat alone at a table by the door. He wasn't expecting any more trouble, at least not as long as he was sitting there, so he drank deeply. When he set down his mug, someone had sat down at his table.

"Isaac Pledger?" said the man. "Captain, by your stripes."

"That's me," said Isaac, trying to focus on the man's face. The voice sounded familiar... "Do I know you?"

"Yep. Name is Adam. I think I last saw you... two, three years ago? At Christmas up in Boston. I'm your cousin."

"Adam!" said Isaac. "Well I'll be damned! How the hell are you? Here, I'll buy you a drink."

"I'd never turn that kind of offer down," said Adam. When Isaac got back to the table with his cup, Adam said, "So you're a captain in His Majesty's army! How did that happen?"

Isaac sighed and shrugged. "When Howe took Boston, all the able-bodied men were conscripted. And anyway, I never had much sympathy for the rebels."

"So you agree with old Steadfast?"

"Father? Yes. Arthur was full of ideas about the rights of man and other nonsense. It's all very well in theory, I suppose, but father and I think that loyalty to King and country and God has to count for something. What's the point of having human rights if you have no loyalty?"

"You and your father?" said Adam, smiling. "Steadfast's a pretty conservative fellow."

Isaac smiled. "Yes, always has been. He's from up in Concord originally, and that's a pretty small, conservative place. But I think something happened when he was young, something that made him pretty skeptical of human nature. He never talks about it, though he's gotten close a couple of times. But anyway, he pretty much thinks that people are rotten to the core, and need strong authority if they're going to do right. And I guess... I guess, overall, I agree with him."

Adam smiled. "Yes, that's what Arthur told me you'd said."

"Arthur? What do you mean? Have you talked to him?"

"A while back. I served with him in Washington's army up till a year ago."


"Yup. He and I met up in New York, and were together all the way down to the Delaware. When Washington crossed it on Christmas, I decided I'd had enough, and ditched them."

"Well aren't you bold as brass," said Isaac. "You talk about desertion as if you were changing your coat."

Adam shrugged. "I'd only joined up to avoid the authorities in New York," he said. "Besides, if Washington's a traitor, then it's no sin to desert his army."

Isaac shook his head. "So Arthur's still with them?"

"I imagine. I tried to get him to come with me, but he said he still believed in the revolution or something. I don't know why he thinks Washington will give him any more 'human rights' than George III does."

Isaac grunted. "A fair point."

Adam grinned. "You talk fine about loyalty and authority, Isaac, but where's your loyalty to your city? Your colony? Boston and Quatsino are pretty much free of the crown these days, aren't they? Are John Adams and his boys still in charge up there?"

"That's different," said Isaac. "Just because the people of Quatsino don't know what's good for them -- I mean, that proves my point, democracy is a fool's game -- "

"Come off it, Isaac," growled Adam. "You and I know perfectly well the real reason you're wearing a red coat. It's because you want your father's approval. Steadfast is an old stick in the mud; he's so conservative, he grumbles when the sun rises and changes the night to day. You don't give a damn about king or country or anything, all you care about is Steadfast paying attention to you instead of Arthur for once."

"That's a lie!" cried Isaac, and pushed the table at Adam. As he fell, Adam grabbed Isaac's coat and pulled him down with him, so that they were rolling on the floor. And then Isaac was only conscious of punching, kicking, smashing furniture, and blood.

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