This week's Indie Ink Writing Challenge comes to me from Stefan, who asks me to watch this and write whatever comes to mind upon hearing the music. (My challenge is taken up here.)
Now, I don't claim to understand anyone's brain, least of all my own. And what has happened, so far, during these challenges is that an image comes to me, full born, and insists that I write about it, the moment I see the challenge item. I don't know where this came from, but it's here, and it won't go away until I write about it. So here goes.
I call it "Hold Your Ground".
I had finally talked Annie into it when they came looking for me. Her father's tavern had become my home away from home, and she didn't resist my flirtations quite as robustly as she did some others. I was at loose ends, performing manual labor for enough coin to keep me in bread and beer since my father's descent into madness left me without a trade. Annie had finally yielded and allowed me to step into the narrow back room with her, and she was gasping, her red hair brushing the black timbers of the wall, as my hand went under her skirt. I was so intent on my goal I didn't hear the hammering on the door, or the pounding feet as the patrons made their bid for freedom out the back door.
The King needed soldiers, and any man who could not account for himself was at risk of being swept into His Majesty's legions. A grinning sergeant found me, my face buried in Annie's soft neck, and hauled me away from her with a laugh. It was all a blur after that- camp, marching and saluting and shooting and marching some more, then packed into a stinking infernal vessel for the crossing- nothing but storm tossed misery and death for seeming ages- dry biscuits and stale water and disease, followed by endless days with nothing in sight but evil sea. We lost almost a quarter our number before finally reaching port.
The pleasure of reaching land again was outweighed by the weight of terror that came across us immediately. The colonists hated us, and those who were in fact supporting His Majesty's rule were terrified into silence by terrorist mobs. I had told myself it would be a simple thing- march about for a while, perhaps exchange a few rounds, then come home a war hero with grossly inflated tales. A veteran of the Colonial War, fit to marry Annie and raise a litter of little ones in her father's tavern.
We quickly learned it wasn't so simple. All the close order drill and formation work came apart in the field, as the colonists would rarely form in line of battle, instead resorting to Indian fighting- remaining behind trees and hedges, picking off officers at will, sowing confusion. We thrashed them when we could find them, but the price was high- men torn to pieces by shot and shell, slaughtered by Indian allies, civilians telling tales of plunder and rape that we answered in kind against their people, which only made them angrier and more defiant. I began the campaign angry at the American colonists, sure that a firm hand, and a few hangings, would return these Englishmen to their King's side. My hoped for heroism evolved into a simple wish to survive.
The action I actually saw was made worse by the stories we heard third hand- the Fleet was coming, then they weren't, then we had them pinned down, then they were free of our clutches, marauding against our supply lines, then word of clashes in distant places reached us, Saratoga and Trenton and Brandywine, starting us wondering how long it would be until we could put them to heel. Or at least, how long before we would be reinforced and allowed to return home. I had seen men drop on either side of me, the whine of the ball followed by an expulsion of air, a spreading red stain, and someone who had broken bread with me that morning was a crumpled pile of rags and bones, as dead as Charlemagne. I had seen wretched scenes, rebel mobs putting homes to the torch because their owners were insufficiently disloyal, and comrades of mine having their way with colonist women, no one among us willing to object. Things had become desperate swiftly.
I wasn't an officer. Tactics or strategy of any sort were far above my station. But I could do sums, and I could tell we were outgunned on this day, the sun already pounding our backs as we sweated, lined up, bayonets prepared. My unit was about to be overrun, but I stood my ground, because I would be executed if I ran, because I wanted Annie to be proud of me, because I wanted to represent England and the rule of law. I stood there, looking over the vastly larger numbers of enemy with their motley flags and irregular dress, estimating how many each of us would have to gun down for us to win the day, and coming to a disturbingly high number. I gripped my weapon tightly, sweat making tracks through the grime on my face, wishing I had run and hid when they came for me, wanting only to survive and see Annie again, and being really sure for the first time that I wouldn't.