THE SHADOW THAT PASSETH AWAY
Lafayette’s frown deepened as he and Jeremy Larkin continued to move through the trees. The weather had taken a turn during the night and a rising warmth had produced a thick damp mist that obscured the land, reducing visibility to nearly nothing. He could make out his companion but little else. If the rumors were true that Lord Howe intended to mass his army and move, then this might be the opportunity to do so. Returning to camp had become more of a imperative with each step they took, and yet Jeremy seemed to be lagging. Every so often the blond man would look behind them, his blue eyes narrowed as if seeking something. Once, when he questioned him, Jeremy had reacted with something that almost amounted to anger. His answer was that he had heard something – perhaps a predator pacing them. But there had been something in Robert Larkin’s brother’s face, in his voice, that had implied the answer was a lie.
More and more the Frenchman was growing uncomfortable.
They were approaching the river now. The fog was clabbered; thick as day old milk. There was a stillness in the air that was almost eerie. All of a sudden, Jeremy stumbled and fell into him, driving him to the ground.
“There is no time for explanation, general,” he breathed close by his ear. “Give me your pistol and prepare to die.”
“What?” Lafayette whispered back, stunned.
“The men following must believe you dead. I will pretend to shoot you. The river is near, make for it.”
“What about you?”
“Pay me no mind. They believe I mean to betray you.” Jeremy cocked the hammer on the pistol. “I will find you again.”
The blond man rose to his feet then. His voice harsh, he ordered him, “Get up you French frog! You’ll not escape me that way.”
Lafayette lay there staring at the young man, uncertain of what to do. Still, there was something in the change that had overcome Jeremy Larkin, in his determined mien and clear, if troubled blue eyes that put him at ease.
“Oui. Permit me a moment,” he said as he climbed to his feet.
Jeremy hesitated only a second. Run, sir, he mouthed, and then he pointed a flintlock pistol directly at him and fired. A second later the morning air was struck by the concussion of a shot as the blond man fired his other weapon into the ground. Lafayette was jolted by the sound, but unharmed. It only took him a moment to realize that the flintlock Jeremy had taken from him must have been unloaded, while the one the blond man carried was primed and ready. Even as the first crimson blur appeared behind Jeremy Larkin, Lafayette did as he was ordered. He used his long legs to propel himself into the fog and down the bank toward the water.
Jeremy waited as a half dozen crimson forms emerged from the heavy fogbank rolling off the Brandywine River. The British soldiers held their rifles at the ready. He had done his best to save both his brother and father and Lafayette. If it wasn’t enough – if the soldiers killed him, thereby damning his kin, well, at least he had tried. The oldest of the soldiers, a rough sergeant of fifty or so, skidded to a halt beside him and gripped him by the collar.
“Where is he? Where is Lafayette?”
“He tried to escape,” Jeremy answered. His voice trembled, partly as an act, and partly because he was shaking from fatigue. “I had to shoot him. I think I hit him. I don’t know. He took off across the fields.” The rebel leader pointed in the opposite direction the Frenchman had gone. Jeremy hoped, at least, it would cause the sergeant to halve his forces.
“Damn! Major Tarleton will have our heads unless we bring him back a body riddled with bullets.” The sergeant whirled on him. “Too bad yours won’t do!” And then he slammed Jeremy across the face with his pistol, driving him to the ground. As the blond man sat there with his head ringing, the soldier pointed the end of the barrel at him. “I should kill you here and now.”
“What’ll we do, Sergeant Barnes?”
The older man growled. “One of you guard him. Canty, that’s your call. Your three, head out across the field. If the frog is wounded, you should catch him quick. You two, come with me. We’ll search the area of the river.” Brooks kicked Jeremy in the thigh. “This one could be lying.”
Only three. Only three would follow Lafayette. The chances were the Frenchman could elude them. And if Jeremy could convince Major Tarleton that he had indeed shot the major general, and that Lafayette’s body had been washed downstream after falling in the river, then maybe – just maybe – he could at least save his father’s life.
Though probably not Robert’s….
“On your feet!” the lieutenant who had been left behind with him ordered even as the other redcoats fanned out.
“Aye, sir,” Jeremy answered meekly. “What will you do with me?”
“Hold you here until the others return.”
“And then?” he asked.
The man raised his pistol and pointed it at Jeremy’s chest. “That will depend on whether or not you are lying.”
Leonard McCoy sat watching Henry Abington ply his after-hours trade. It seemed the chubby auburn-haired man was not only an apothecary, but a munitions expert. An odd combination, the surgeon thought. Dealing life with one hand and death, most expertly, with the other. Henry claimed the weapons were purely defensive, but the surgeon could see he was troubled by what he did. But then again, it was war, and in war men found excuses for acts they would never consider committing when sane.
They had gone to Isak’s smithy first to gather up a couple of rusted naval cannon. McCoy had almost betrayed himself when he hadn’t recognized them for what they were. He was, after all, supposed to be a navy man. He had gotten out of it by ranting on about their destructive potential until both the other men had walked into another room to get away from him.
Being a curmudgeon had its advantages. He’d have to remember to tell Spock.
Henry was rigging some kind of explosive charges to place in the cannon and then fire at the British headquarters. Their intention was to create a diversion, drawing the soldiers outside so they could enter and free Robert and Samuel Larkin. Henry would fire off the cannon, and he and Isak would be the invasion force.
Not for the first time McCoy wished Jim Kirk was here. Jim was the commando, the man of action, not him. He was the one who came along afterward and patched up all the jackasses who got themselves injured. He had his bag with him. He hoped, if and when they got to Robert, that he would not be too late to save him.
McCoy swallowed hard as the image of him snatching Edith Keeler from the path of a car careening toward her, rose before his eyes. What if Robert Larkin was meant to die? Would saving the young captain’s life be a mistake? Without Spock and that damned photographic memory of his they couldn’t know. Only the Vulcan had seen the images the Guardian provided, and even that didn’t mean that he had seen the right ones.
He hoped Spock was okay.
“Damned right, I needed to come along!” McCoy groused.
“Doctor?” It was Henry Abington. The apothecary’s hand came down on his shoulder. “Are you all right?”
“I’m worried about my friends,” he admitted. ‘I suppose I shouldn’t be. Much as I kid him otherwise, Spock is able more than most men to look out for himself. And Jim Kirk – ”
As he paused, the bell on the apothecary shop’s front door rang once, twice, and then a third frantic time. When they failed to answer, someone began pounding. Henry and Isak exchanged worried glances.
“Whoever it is, they will draw attention,” Isak announced. “Get out there, Henry, and let them in!”
The apothecary huffed, threw a cloth over his explosives, and then hurried out of the back room where he had been working. Isak and McCoy followed him, and then waited as they heard him turn a key in the lock. A second later Henry opened the door and a breathless Jim Kirk burst in.
“Henry, you have to listen to – Bones! Isak! Thank God you are here! We have to go now. General Lafayette is in terrible danger!”
McCoy noticed that the right side of his captain’s face was blackened with bruising, and that a slow trickle of blood ran from his ear to his collar. “Jim, what happened? Let me look at that cut.”
Kirk waved him off. “Not now, Bones! Get your weapon and let’s go.”
“We were about to free the Larkins,” Henry protested. “Our plan is nearly complete.”
“The Larkins? Oh, God, that’s right. I had forgotten they’re being held.” Jim drew a breath and grew the slightest bit less agitated. But not by much. “That explains it.”
McCoy had ignored his friend and was standing by his captain now, examining his head wound. It had been made, he thought, by the sight of a pistol being dragged across the flesh hard. The surgeon’s mouth watered for his mediscanner. He had it, of course, but didn’t dare use it with the others looking on. With it, he could have told instantly if there was any other damage, concussion or otherwise. If so, Jim shouldn’t be up and running around.
Not that that had ever stopped him before.
“What do you mean ‘explains it’?” the blacksmith asked, suspicious. “Which Larkin are you talking about?”
Kirk drew a deep breath. “I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your leader has sold you out.”
Both men exclaimed, “What! Never! Impossible!” at nearly the same time.
“It’s true. Jeremy struck me over the head and delivered Lafayette into the hands of the British in order to save his father and brother.”
He saw them hesitate. They were sure of Jeremy – until it came to his family.
Isak frowned. “You mean Paul…
“Dear God, yes, I can see it. But Jeremy, a traitor? I can’t believe it,” Henry said.
“Believe it. I saw it with my own eyes.”
“Never,” Isak agreed. “He must have had some sort of a plan.”
Kirk shrugged. “It’s possible, though I saw no sign of it. His words to me were ‘Forgive me, Captain Kirk, but we must do this my way if my father and brother are to survive.’”
“You see!” Henry looked hopeful. “His way. He did have something in mind. Captain Kirk, you must believe us. Jeremy would never betray the Cause in such a way.”
Jim’s words were hard. “Well, I hope you are right. Regardless, we must hunt him down.”
“Jim, how long has it been since you were knocked out?” McCoy asked softly.
“Damn it, Bones, this is no time for your to nursemaid me.”
“It’s not that. How long? One, two hours?”
“So whatever Jeremy was up to has probably happened – for good or bad.”
The captain conceded it. “Probably.”
“So maybe we should free Robert and his father anyhow. That way, the reason for Jeremy’s betrayal,” he glanced at the other two men, “if it happened, will be eliminated. With them free, the British would lose what, if any, leverage they have on the young man.”
“I don’t know, Bones. Lafayette….” Kirk’s voice trailed off as his hazel eyes flicked to Jeremy’s friends. He couldn’t finish the thought, couldn’t tell them how important the young Frenchman would be to their country’s history.
Damn that Prime Directive!
“It makes sense to me.” Isak Poole’s black face was stone sober. “If there was anything could make Jeremy waver – if – it would be family. The reason for the secrecy of our organization is to protect them.”
“Jeremy loves his brother, and father dearly,” Henry agreed.
“Jim,” McCoy placed a hand on Kirk’s arm and drew him aside. “If I am to help Robert Larkin it had best be soon. He was in bad shape the last time I saw him and that was hours ago.”
Kirk hesitated. Then he turned back to the other men. “How long will it take?”
“An hour, maybe a little more. We need to set the cannon on the ridge above the town and prime them,” Henry answered.
The starship captain mulled it over. McCoy could see the wheels turning in his head. He could sense Jim Kirk’s inner struggle as the starship captain fought the need to do what he thought he had to do. Finally, Jim acquiesced. “One hour. No more.
“Now tell me what I need to do.”
Lafayette stumbled knee deep through the water, treading cattail leaves and breathing in fog so thick it was choking. It had taken everything that was in him not to turn back and attempt to rescue Jeremy. When he had thought about it calmly, the Frenchman realized that by doing so he would jeopardize any hope that the young man’s plan to help his family might work. He had to be ‘dead’ for the British to release the Larkins. The English command apparently knew he was in Chester and had set out to capture or kill him. They had confronted Jeremy, and held his family’s lives over his head to make him comply. It spoke of the blond man’s fortitude and integrity that he had given him a chance to escape. He could have simply handed him over. It was doubtful anyone would have ever known of his treachery.
A special man indeed.
The Frenchman knew he was somewhere near the Brandywine River. Even as he and Robert Larkin departed, Washington’s forces had been dispatched to watch the fords directly above and below Chadd’s where they expected the British to strike first. He hoped he was heading south, though he couldn’t be certain. The last he had heard General John Armstrong, along with a company of nearly 1000 men, had been set to guard Pyle’s Ford. If he could make contact with them he would be safe. It would take no time to be restored to His Excellency’s side.
When he had traveled nearly a half an hour, Lafayette chose to emerge from the river. He was soaked to the skin and his teeth were chattering in spite of the rising warmth of the day. Somewhere above the sun shone, but the fog here was thick as soup. It painted the landscape a rich red-gold, but did nothing to burn off the mist. Armstrong had to have sentinels and guards set all along the edge of the Continental line. The soldiers would be looking out for any sign of movement. If he kept walking, surely someone would spot him. He would make them take him to the general who knew him, and then –
“Stay where you are!” a strident voice ordered. “Remain where you are or I will shoot you where you stand.”
The accent was English.
James T. Kirk glanced at Bones and Isak Poole, and then at the town hall clock. Henry Abington was certainly punctual. The clock had just struck nine and the cannon roared, sending the first of the explosive charges into the air. Kirk ducked involuntarily as the cartridges exploded on impact, taking stone, wood, and metal with them as both the wall of the buildings and its windows blew inward. A general shout of alarm went up. People in the street ran screaming for cover. And, as they hoped, British soldiers in various stages of dress and undress began pouring from the building’s interior into the street.
There were about forty of them by his count. Nearly a company. That meant only a few were left inside. And they could be injured, Kirk thought as he bolted from the doorway in which he was hiding. There might be none left inside with the strength or will to resist. The way might be clear to free the Larkins.
It might, but that wasn’t usually how things played out.
Drawing the antique weapon Isak had given him, he nodded to the other two men – noting that McCoy was about as pale a shade of gray as the scattered stone – and told them to follow. Then he ran like a bullet along the buildings, clinging to the shadows as much as he could. A minute later the three of them entered the chaos of British headquarters in Chester. As they did, another round of charges struck the building, shaking it and them.
“One thing I should of told you about Henry,” the black man grinned. “He does love to play with his toys.”
“Well, let’s hope he doesn’t get too carried away,” Bones growled.
“Be happy, Bones, so far no one’s hurt.” Kirk checked around the corner and then motioned the others again. “Near the back, you think? On the alley?”
“Aye. That’s where they normally keep prisoners.”
“Normally? Normally!” McCoy groused. “What the hell is normal about charging into a building that’s being blasted to Hell!”
Kirk stopped the surgeon with a hand to his chest. One lone soldier – a young man pale as a ghost – clung to his duty and kept guard outside the prisoners’ room. The starship captain could hear one of the prisoners shouting something from inside the locked door, but he couldn’t make it out.
“What now?” McCoy asked.
Jim shrugged. Then he flashed what he knew the doctor considered one of his dangerous smiles.
“Charge!” he shouted and did just that.
The young man never even saw him coming and, seconds later, he lay flat on the floor. Kirk backed off and watched as Bones knelt by the soldier to check the man’s vitals. As he did, Isak Poole pulled a sliver of metal from his pocket and began to jimmy the door.
Moments later, they were in.
Samuel Larkin was standing near the door, a raised chair in his hands as if he would defend his son by sheer force of will if necessary. Kirk held his hands up as he entered the room and then was gratified to see the older man relax as Isak followed him.
“Isak! Thank Providence. What is going on? Where is Jeremy?”
Kirk answered the first. “The building is under attack. We have to get you out of here.” He crossed quickly to the figure laying on the floor in the corner. What he saw there made him yell, “Bones!”
The surgeon heard it in his voice – near panic.
Kirk watched his friend kneel by Robert’s side. After a cursory examination, Bones reached into the black bag and showed him the mediscanner. McCoy’s grizzled eyebrows rose with the question.
“Thirty seconds,” Kirk whispered. Then he took hold of Samuel Larkin’s arm and drew him over to where Isak was standing, deliberately shielding Bones’ movements with his body. “Isak, get Mr. Larkin out of here.”
“I will not leave my boy!” the older man proclaimed.
“Sir,” Kirk said in all seriousness. “We will have to carry Robert out of here. It will be easier – and safer – if we do not have to do the same thing for you.” The threat was implied, but it was there. “Head for the Coates’ farm, Isak. We’ll meet you there if we can.”
Samuel Larkin started to protest, which was a good thing, because as he shouted Kirk heard the short whir of the medical scanner taking a reading. “Sir,” the older man broke in, “I must insist that I am not an old man to be coddled! I can – ”
“I know that,” Kirk said, meeting his indignant stare. “And that is why you will do as I ask.”
That stopped him. The hard lines in the old man’s face softened, making him seem even older. “God bless you, sir,” Samuel whispered and then he let Isak lead him out the door.
Just as another series of explosions rocked the building.
Kirk strode over to the doctor’s side. “That’s the last one, Bones. We have to go!”
McCoy didn’t protest. There was no other choice. “I gave him a hypospray, Jim. A massive dose against infection. He’ll live, and it won’t be too long before he can be on his feet.”
James Kirk turned and looked back toward the chaos that he knew awaited them outside – a chaos to be repeated a hundred thousand fold before the day was over and the Battle of Brandywine ended. Robert Larkin was a soldier in General Washington’s army.
Bones had just saved Robert, most likely, so he could die.