Monday, January 24, 2011

The World Turn'd Upside Down

Williamsburg, VA
October, 1781

The drums rolled and the pipes caught up a merry old tune:

Listen to me and you shall hear,
News hath not been this thousand year:
Since Herod, Caesar, and many more,
You never heard the like before...

"March!" called the sergeant, and Isaac stepped forward to the beat.

Yet let's be content, and the times lament,
You see the world turn'd upside down.

A low mist hung over James Bay, brought by a sea breeze; and the smell of clean salt overcame the cookfires, the old leather, the unwashed men, and all the other stinks of the three-week siege. Isaac kept his eyes straight ahead as they marched down the hill, meaning he had to look out over the Bay and see the French fleet crowding the water by the inlet. But it was better than looking at this sorry army he was marching in. They went in a ragged file three abreast, muskets at their shoulders, laughing, talking, crying. Some of the men had hung hats on their guns, or stuffed grass or nettles in the barrels.

Command is given, we must obey,
And quite forget old Christmas day:
Kill a thousand men, or a Town regain,
We will give thanks and praise amain...
Yet let's be content, and the times lament,
You see the world turn'd upside down.

They rounded a corner in the camp and came out onto the broad field where the "Americans" and French were lined up, waiting for them. Washington's traitors were on the right, in the position of honor, by God; and Rochambeau's troops were on the left. Isaac would have marched with his eyes shut if he could have. The traitors were lined up ragtag, most of them without uniforms or even proper boots, cheering and waving their hats in the air; the French formed fine ranks, and their brass gleamed. Isaac stared at his feet.

Which is why Adam was able to easily grab his collar, yank him out of the line, and hurl him down on his hands and knees. Isaac yelled and struggled to get up, burdened by his pack and musket bag, but Adam, working with silent speed, twisted him onto his back and pushed a knife up against his throat.

"Look at me," hissed Adam. "Look at me!"

Isaac tried to focus. Adam's face looked wrong somehow. Someone nearby said, "Here, what are you doing?"

"Look at me!" cried Adam. He shook Isaac. Isaac finally saw: Adam's left eye was milky white, and a terrible red scar ran down his face. "What -- what --" said Isaac.

"You did this to me," said Adam, and his voice was almost calm now. "You did this to me. I wanted it to be the last thing you saw before you died." Isaac felt Adam tense his arm for the thrust, felt the pain in his throat --

Then Adam was off him, and fighting someone else. Isaac shook his head to clear it, struggled to his feet. A familiar voice: "You double-crossing deserter, what the hell do you think you're doing coming back here? I'll see you hanged!"

Isaac spun round. There was his brother Arthur, sword upraised, dressed in the non-uniform of the Americans, with Adam at his feet. Adam rolled away, found his footing, and was off, dodging between the startled soldiers.

"That's right!" Arthur shouted after him. "That's right, you just run, you coward! Like you did before!"

For a moment the two brothers watched Adam dash past the last ranks and disappear into the woods. As far as Isaac was concerned, he wasn't worth chasing. He felt of his neck: there was some blood there, but nothing serious.

Arthur turned and smiled at him. "Well," he said. "That was a surprise! It's good to see you. Are you hurt?"

Isaac knew Arthur had saved his life, and that he deserved -- deserved -- well, gratitude, respect, a handshake. But Isaac had none of that in him, not today, not while his King's army was being marched in disgrace between the French and the traitors. Isaac would have been happy to die today. Arthur had taken even that from him.

He just turned and rejoined the British ranks without a word.

Our Lords and Knights, and Gentry too,
Do mean old fashions to forgo:
They set a porter at the gate,
That none must enter in thereat.
They count it a sin, when poor people come in.
Hospitality itself is drowned.
Yet let's be content, and the times lament,
You see the world turn'd upside down.

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