The Eleven Thousand Five Hundred
The document lay on his desk, unsigned. General Lafayette regarded it from across the room with the wariness of a hunter facing a deadly prey – only the death it promised to deal was not his own, but a friend’s. He ran a finger along his lip and leaned back in the campaign chair he occupied. A thousand times he had told himself to walk over, to take up his pen and sign it, and a thousand and one times he had talked himself out of it. Though the document made a pretense at being nothing more than a simple order, he knew it for what it was. Even if his friend managed to survive, the consequences would haunt him for the rest of his days. He had talked to the old men who had once been young soldiers; the ones who sat in the King’s hall at Versailles and told tales of what they had endured at the hands of the British. Broken men who spoke of the things that had been done to them that had changed them – forever.
Could he…was he capable of consigning this man he loved as a brother and respected to such perdition? To a living hell?
Rising from his chair, Lafayette began to pace. Their last meeting had taken place in secret. No one was to know. When it happened, it would come as a terrible blow to all who loved him. First to be taken, and then imprisoned, and then….
“Non,” he breathed. “Non, I will not. I cannot.”
And yet, if he did not, how many more would die? How many hundreds already had? What was one man’s life against that? He had sent others to their deaths, far more than he cared to admit.
But this was different. This was a friend.
“Coward!” he spat, damning himself. Then he strode over to the desk and took the cursed thing in hand. Lafayette stared at the signature beneath which he would place his own. His friend was not afraid. He had made his choice.
Not to sign was not to honor it.
With shaking fingers he grasped the quill and lifted it. Dipping the point into the ink was paramount to raising his hand and ordering the squad to fire. As he rested his hand on the parchment to steady it, he closed his eyes briefly and uttered a prayer and then, with one bold stroke –
It was done.
Lafayette dropped the pen on the desk and as quickly as he could – lest he change his mind – folded the paper and fixed it with his wax seal. Then he called in his aide.
“Sir?” the man asked with a sharp snap of his heels.
“Take this to Captain Larkin. Deliver it into his hands. Tell him….”
The young officer looked puzzled. “Tell him what, sir?”
Lafayette returned to his chair and fell heavily into it.
“Tell him it has begun.”