THE SHADOW THAT PASSETH AWAY
It hadn’t taken all that much in the confusion to overpower the English soldier guarding him. Jeremy Larkin was on the move, though he had found out that moving was not an easy matter in an area swarming with edgy redcoats and nervous continental soldiers. He had already evaded a number of patrols. At the moment he couldn’t be certain what welcome he would receive from either side. To the British he was an escaped prisoner. Whether they considered him valuable enough to keep alive depended on how much the individual who stopped him knew. To the Continentals, most likely, he was a traitor. James Kirk would have awakened shortly after his departure with the marquis. Kirk, no doubt, thought he had betrayed the Frenchman to save his own – and his family’s necks. If their positions had been reversed, it is was what he would have thought. And if that was the case, there no doubt was a warrant out for his arrest – if the soldiers had not been ordered to shoot him on sight.
The only hope Jeremy had lay in somehow returning to Chester and contacting Henry and Isak. Though suspicious of his actions, he knew his men believed in him. If he could convince them of what he had done – and why he had done it – they could carry the information to those in charge and see him cleared of all wrongdoing.
If they, along with everyone else he knew and loved, survived this day.
Several hours before he had heard multiple gunshots ring out. The sound had come from north of his position near the ford. Probably from the area of Birmingham Courthouse. The ground was high there, and it made sense the Americans had chosen to use it to their advantage. A fleeing soldier had explained the British were too strong; that Sullivan, Stephens and Stirling’s divisions were all on the run. When Jeremy asked about Washington, he had been told the great man was on his way with additional troops, but that the gesture was futile. Too many of the American soldiers were untried. Too many of them were tossing down their weapons and fleeing.
Too many were already dead.
Jeremy had seen that too, though in low numbers. Bodies, littering the fields, clad in both red and blue. But there was so much more blue than red.
Every time he saw one, he wondered if it was Robert.
As more shots rang out, closer this time, Jeremy ducked into the leaves that lined the footpath he was on. He had been lucky so far. The soldier he had spoken to had not known him. This time, his luck might fail and he did not dare risk capture. There was too much at stake today. Too many tasks at hand that needed carrying out.
Simply too much to do.
Crouching down, Jeremy waited as two men walked past. Their heads were bent together and they were deep in conversation. So deep, they did not notice him, even when he sprang from his hiding place and stepped onto the path behind them.
“Henry! Isak!” he declared.
Both men spun. Both looked stunned.
Henry was the first to rouse from stupefaction. Grinning, he declared, “Jeremy! Dear God, Jeremy! How are you? Where have you been?” The apothecary caught him in a bear’s hug and nearly squeezed the air from his lungs. When Henry released him, his round face sobered. “What have you done, my friend?”
Jeremy glanced at Isak. The smithy’s look was wary.
“Am I considered a traitor, then?” he asked.
Henry looked pained to admit it. “Aye. James Kirk said you kidnapped General Lafayette and turned him over to the British in order to save your father and Robert.”
“We told him he was wrong,” the smithy added. “He was wrong. Wasn’t he, Jeremy?”
“Yes and no,” the rebel leader admitted with chagrin. “I did kidnap the general, and led him away with the British following.” At their looks, he raised a hand. “But it was with the intention of freeing him and allowing him to escape. I had hoped, by appearing to do what Major Tarleton asked, that I might save my father at the very least. It was selfish of me, I admit. Though to tell the truth, I could see no other way of getting the marquis back to Washington’s side. There were six soldiers with me, watching the Coates’ barn and waiting for an opportunity to take or kill him.”
Henry reached out and took him by the arm. “We knew you were not a traitor.”
“Aye,” Isak echoed.
Jeremy nodded his head, truly touched. “Now, tell me what has transpired since our disappearance. What of the strangers? Of Lafayette? Is there word? And what of my father and Robert?” A fearful thought struck him. “Do they believe me guilty of this charge?”
“Jeremy, we have been at Elizabeth’s farm. Your father is there, safe and sound of both body and mind,” Henry said. “Of General Lafayette and the strangers, we know little. We have only now come from the Coates’ to seek you out.”
“What of Robert?”
“He is rescued and well enough, due to Doctor McCoy’s ministrations, to rejoin his regiment.”
Jeremy noticed that Henry turned so he could not meet his eyes.
“Does Robert think me a traitor?”
It was Isak who answered. “He does not want to. But, Jeremy, he is unsure.”
The rebel leader had not felt so heart sore since his mother had passed. “Dear Lord….”
“You will prove your innocence,” the blacksmith said as his hand fell on Jeremy’s shoulder. “Once this day is over, we will go to General Washington and – ”
“You will go to General Washington now!” a strident voice proclaimed even as a Continental soldier stepped out of the leaves and aimed a rifle at them.
In spite of Jeremy’s protestations, Isak and Henry moved in front of him – fearful, no doubt, that the man would simply shoot him.
“You must hear him out,” the black man protested.
“He will get his hearing.” Another man, dressed in a hunter’s frock coat stepped out of the leafy covering. Jeremy knew him. It was Phillip Stoner, his brother’s personal aide. Phillip’s look was hard; his jaw set in a tight line.
“Lieutenant Stoner,” Jeremy began, “I can explain.”
“Let us hope you can. But not here. And not to me.” Philip raised his hand. A flintlock pistol was in it. “My orders are to take you back to the camp lately abandoned by General Washington, and to hold you there until such a time as a court martial can be convened to give you opportunity to answer the charges made against you.”
“But, sir,” Henry protested. “We are loyal to the Cause. This day of all days, all should be free to aid in – ”
“Until we know just whom Master Larkin means to aid, he is to be detained.” Phillip’s weapon swung to the auburn-haired man. “You will not interfere, unless you care to join him.”
Even as they spoke more shots rang out, still closer, as the fighting grew in intensity. The battle was moving their way. Soon, they would be engulfed in it. The noise of the conflict drew the lieutenant’s attention and for a moment, his weapon wavered. Before he had time to forbid him to do it, Isak struck out and knocked the weapon aside.
“Run, Jeremy!” the smithy shouted. “We’ll hold them….”
It was a mistake. Jeremy knew it, even before another dozen Continental soldiers appeared from out the shadows of the trees. This was it. Whatever happened today on the Brandywine, it would happen without them.
Seconds later, bound and under suspicion of collaborating with the enemy, Jeremy and the rest of the Yankee Doodle Society were led away.
Spock gasped and called out for assistance. Even though every muscle and fiber of his being screamed against his waking, he ignored their command and demanded their obedience to his will. As he had lain there recuperating, he had reviewed the progress of the meld he shared with Jim Kirk. While the captain’s assessment of the transferred images had been essentially correct, it had occurred to the Vulcan that the human had misinterpreted one important aspect of the events unfolding around them: they were not here to prevent the Marquis de Lafayette’s death, so much as assure that someone else did.
He had to awaken.
“Doctor!” the Vulcan cried, feeling his body shutting down, seeking to pull him into a darkness that might prove unending, “Doctor! McCoy!”
A long string of colorful and highly inventive epithets announced the ship’s surgeon’s arrival. “Spock, what are you doing? It hasn’t been long enough.”
“Strike me, Doctor. Quickly!”
“M’Benga said this kind of thing took days – ”
“There is no time to argue.” Every word was bitten off and spit through teeth clenched against pain. No off-worlder could understand. In this the Vulcan mind did not rule. If he did not regain consciousness, he would die. “Strike me.”
“For the love of God, Spock…” Weakened as he was, his mental barriers were raw. The human physician’s emotions crashed through was little was left of them as McCoy touched his arm. For a moment, Spock was overwhelmed with the doctor’s genuine emotion and concern for him. Beyond that, he suddenly understood. It was inconceivable to the human healer that he was being called upon to inflict pain.
“Doctor, forgive – ” Spock bit back excruciating pain. His body was in rebellion. It wanted to shut down. Permanently. A moan escaped his lips, startling even to his own ears.
He was going to die.
“Damn it! No, you don’t, Spock,” Leonard McCoy growled. And then the Georgia doctor drew back his arm and struck him with all the rage of his fear and loathing combined.
McCoy obeyed, every inch of him resisting. Spock could feel it in the waves of emotion radiating from the medical man.
This time the blow jarred him to the core of his being. Spock gasped and his eyes flew open in surprise. When he caught McCoy’s arm and kept him from striking again, the Vulcan saw the same surprise register on the surgeon’s face. It had taken McCoy’s anger to awaken such strength in him; an anger the physician had not known he possessed.
“Thank you, Doctor,” Spock said evenly as he sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the army cot he occupied.
“What do you think you are doing?” Leonard McCoy asked him. The doctor was breathing hard and did not look at all acquiescent. “Lay back down. That wound has barely begun to heal.”
One black eyebrow peaked. Spock held a sigh at bay, but barely. “After nearly three years’ experience, Doctor McCoy, I would think that by now you would have accepted the futility of such an argument,” he remarked.
“In other words, you are going to do what you damned well please in spite of your physician’s orders.”
“As you so succinctly put it earlier, Doctor, there is no Starfleet as of yet. Therefore there are no orders of any consequence.” Spock ignored the surgeon’s hand on his shoulder and rose to his feet. It dismayed him that he was unable to keep from swaying as he did.
McCoy said nothing as he folded his arms over his chest. But his lips compressed in a triumphant smile.
“Doctor, in spite of any danger or threat to myself, duty compels me to seek out the captain and then, to find or locate Jeremy Larkin. It is imperative that Mr. Larkin and his comrades are free to take their part in the drama unfolding even now outside of Chester. During my perusal of the Guardian’s images recorded before Lt. Cmdr. Clayworth stepped through the time portal, I became cognizant of the existence of a pair of brothers whose combined fate heavily influenced the outcome of the war in this locale.”
“The Larkins?” McCoy asked, his tone skeptical. “I don’t recall any Captain Larkin achieving anything special in the history tapes. In fact, I don’t recall the name at all.”
Spock had little knowledge of Robert Larkin. He had seen him across the tavern’s common room. The blond man had seemed an able-bodied individual and, if an assessment of one’s looks and actions for so brief a time could prove informative, a straightforward and upright man. Of his brother, Jeremy Larkin, the Vulcan knew only what he had seen in the Guardian’s memory. Jeremy Larkin was destined for great things; all incognito.
“Robert Larkin does not survive this day,” Spock said, his tone seemingly indifferent. “His brother must. It is Jeremy Larkin who will save the life of Major General Lafayette.”
McCoy’s lips remained pursed as he shook his head. “I don’t think so, Spock. About an hour ago, around six o’clock, a group of Continental soldiers marched Jeremy Larkin and his friends into camp under suspicion of attempted murder and collaboration with the enemy.
“They’re being held under guard in Sergeant Boggs’ tent.”
Jeremy paced the narrow confines of the military tent they had been sequestered in. It was bad enough to have been taken and accused of such a heinous crime, but for the man who had done it to be his brother’s aide….
Good God! Robert must hate him!
“Jeremy, sit down,” Henry sighed. “Save your energy – ”
“For what? Hanging?” Jeremy snapped. Instantly, he regretted it. “Forgive me, Henry. I do not mean to take out my frustration on you.”
“I know.” The apothecary abandoned the edge of the low bed he had been sitting on and rose to his feet. “You are a man of action, and you cannot act.”
“Today of all days!” Jeremy resumed his pacing. “Within miles of here good men are dying. My brother could be among them. And I can do nothing to assist him or any of his comrades.”
“It’s a shame those canisters of Henry’s are going to sit in the apothecary shop untested and untried,” Isak agreed. “As well as the ones worked that we launched against the town hall, I bet they could have turned the tide.”
“At least we know Lafayette made it safe to Washington’s side,” Henry said. “His presence should rally the troops when they arrive.”
“But Major Tarleton lives as well!” Jeremy could hardly believe it. The good news was that one of the strangers newly come to town had freed Lafayette from Tarleton’s grasp. The bad news was that the British major had been captured and then slipped through his enemy’s fingers. “Tarleton has a personal grudge against both me and the general. I fear what he may be plotting. In the midst of a battle, anything can happen.”
“Well, it is out of our hands.” Henry walked to the flap that sealed the tent and peered through the crack left by the ties. “There are two guards posted here, and two more behind. We have no weapons and, even if we did – even if we could overcome these four – there are a dozen more in the camp with express orders to shoot us on sight should we attempt to escape.”
Jeremy paced a moment longer and then fell heavily onto the cot Henry had recently deserted. He lowered his head into his hands. After a moment, he looked back up. “Henry. Isak. Do you have a sense of what I do?”
The two men looked at him blankly.
“A sense of what?” Henry asked.
“That everything is somehow wrong. That things were not meant to play out as they have. We should not be here in this place. I should not be accused of betraying the Cause. And Major Tarleton? I don’t know. Somehow, I don’t think he should be able to recognize the general, let alone have a personal reason to seek the Frenchman out and destroy him.”
“That is very perceptive of you, Mr. Larkin,” an imperturbable voice remarked, startling them all.
Like a wraith, a lean ebon-haired man had appeared near the back of the tent. He stood at ease, with his hands locked behind his back, regarding them coolly.
“Who are you?” Jeremy demanded.
The man raised a finger to his lips and inclined his head toward the front of the tent. “I have incapacitated the guards to the rear. Those in front are still quite animate.”
Jeremy approached him. The man had a fresh linen bandage wound about his dark head. He was dressed for the most part as a gentlemen, though his linen shirt and breeches were soiled. The coat he wore was a deep blue and a size too large, as though it had been borrowed or pilfered.
“Who are you?” the rebel leader demanded again, pitching his voice low so it would carry no more than a few feet. Then, even before the man answered, he had it. “You are Captain Kirk’s missing man,” he said.
“Yes. My name is Spock.”
“You saved the marquis,” Henry added as he joined them. “Thank God for that, sir!”
“If there is a deity involved, then it is not through testing the mettle of its people yet,” Spock remarked dryly. “I only delayed the inevitable. It t is not up to me to keep the marquis safe. It is up to you three.”
Jeremy frowned. “What are you saying?”
“In order to ascertain in your mind that my assertions are true, and to verify the veracity of my statements, I feel a radical step is necessitated.” Spock hesitated. His glance traveled between them before settling, unnervingly, on him again. “However, to reduce the impact of what I must relate, I would ask that you, Jeremy Larkin, step outside the tent with me while your friends remain within.”
“Where are we going?”
“Into the nearby woods. I have a…truth I must impart to you.”
Jeremy held the stranger’s intense gaze. Spock’s near-black eyes were flint. In their ebon depths he read no lie.
“Jeremy!” Isak caught him by the arm. “We have no idea who this man is. We don’t know – ”
“I do. I know. Somehow, I know,” the rebel leader replied simply as he followed Spock toward the rear of the tent. Jeremy squeezed Isak’s flesh reassuringly and then shot a look at Henry. “I won’t be long.”
Spock watched dispassionately as the 18th century man approached. The Vulcan had led him some one hundred feet into the trees. The camp they occupied was, for the most part, deserted. After the battle ended tonight near midnight, stragglers would make their way back seeking aid. Then it would be completely abandoned as the majority of the survivors of the Battle of the Brandywine flowed into, and through the village of Chester.
“Well,” Jeremy demanded, “what is it you would tell me.”
Spock drew a breath. He reached for the bandage on his head. There was no time for subtlety. “It is not what I would tell you. But what I must show you.”
With that, he removed the bandage covering his pointed ears and the full extent of his alien eyebrows.
Jeremy Larkin gasped.
“I am not from your world,” the Vulcan said without preamble. “Nor am I or my companions of your era. Where we come from, it is possible to travel back or forward into time. One of our number, a man named Happer Clayworth, did so, and by his choice altered the very fabric of history. Do you believe me?”
The young man was silent and pale. For several heartbeats he said nothing. Then only, “Can I deny the truth of my eyes?”
“No. And that is why I have revealed myself to you. I apologize if the image is distressing.”
“What….” Jeremy swallowed hard and shook himself. “What did this man, Clayworth, do?”
“He engineered the execution of the Marquis de Lafayette. This action not only brought about the death of George Washington, but the end of the war. The removal of the commander-in-chief and of the eventual entry of France into the war made victory impossible. American acquiesced to Britain’s demands and remained in the union.”
“That is what happened….”
“No. It is what will happen due to Lt. Cmdr. Clayworth’s interference. It is not, however, what was meant to happen.”
“So we win?”
Spock shook his head. “It is best if I do not say.”
Humans were fascinating studies. One could see the workings of their mind written on their faces. Jeremy Larkin passed from disbelief to belief, and back to skepticism in a matter of seconds. “Why should I believe you?” he asked.
“Why should I lie?” Spock paused. “And there is the testimony of your own eyes. How else do you explain me?”
“I don’t. I…can’t.” Jeremy drew a steadying breath. “Where you come from, are there many like you?”
“Many? Yes. And many others who are different from both me and you.”
The young man fell silent, contemplating all he had heard. When he raised his head and met Spock’s gaze, any doubt had been replaced by a determined light that lit his deep blue eyes. “What is it I need to do?”
“First, you must escape. Second, you must be on the banks of the Brandywine River when Major General Lafayette makes his escape from the field.
“And, third, you must prevent Major Tarleton from killing him.”