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Chapter 4

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Journey Home – Excerpt

5 July 1810, Fort Lafayette, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

They departed Fort Lafayette an hour after sunrise. The fort’s men and ladies, and much of Pittsburgh, were there to see them off. Sukey was disappointed that Joe had not been part of the escort, but the honor had gone to a different company of Rangers. Dolley thanked the Scotts for their hospitality, hugged her many friends, and tearfully entered the carriage. Surrounded by Rangers from Company C, Major Tully in the lead and Major Brown riding alongside, the carriage rolled through the gate and to the east, along the Forbe’s Road.

Sukey leaned out the window, waving and yelling goodbyes until the fort was out of sight, then plopped onto her seat and beamed at Dolley. “Would you like to see Joe’s farewell present?”

Dolley nodded, her gaze flitting to Sukey’s neck, wrists and fingers, looking for jewelry. Grinning, Sukey produced—from somewhere!—an enormous Ranger knife and handed it to Dolley.

“It’s the one you awarded him for winning the dismounted competition.”

“Where do you keep it?”

Sukey made the knife disappear, and then caused it to reappear, and showed Dolley how it was strapped to her right thigh, and the subtle slit in her dress which allowed quick access. Sukey fumbled about under her dress and handed Dolley a lightweight belt and strap ensemble. “We’ve been working on this for weeks. Joe says a woman should never go about unarmed.”

Dolley was intrigued, and instantly thought of her father’s knife. “Is it comfortable to wear?”

“Yes, even when I run. The first version had a strap around my upper thigh that made my leg tingle. This one has a waist belt to take the weight. I think I can hang the pistol on the other side.”

Dolley grinned. “And we can sew in a few of the survival tools Sam insisted we carry.”

“Good idea. What were you chuckling about in your sleep this morning, just before you awoke?”

“I was reliving the attack on the journey out.”

“What was funny about that?”

“I let you scalp that man.”

“I don’t know how. Joe wouldn’t teach me.”

“I know, you made a real mess of it and got blood all over your dress.”

***

The carriage slowed, then clattered to a halt.

Major Brown peered in the window. “This is the place, Madam. You sure?”

One last demon to exorcise. “Yes.”

The carriage sat just past the location of the brigand’s ambush. The Ranger escort had secured the perimeter well outside the ambush site, and had dismounted, resting their horses. Dolley took a deep breath and left the carriage, followed by Sukey. The girl was wearing her weapons belt, silly given the security provided by the Rangers, then Dolley realized that she also wore her weapons.

She recognized the place immediately, and was surprised at how small it seemed. The carriage sat there. Major Brown was on the ground there. The thieves stood there and there, and I was standing about there when I shot the leader. Sukey tackled Sam Murdoch there. She walked to where the carriage had been, then retraced her steps, visualizing the events of that day while Sukey and Major Brown stood to the side, watching.

“I don’t understand, Steven. I thought I’d feel fear as I recalled these events.”

Brown smiled. “What comes to mind?”

Dolley thought about it. “How I’d do it differently.”

“Yes!” Sukey said. “I’d use the first man’s blunderbuss to gut-shoot the second man when he opened the door, then snatch his musket and take up a firing position in the woods.”

Dolley nodded. “I’d exit the opposite door, use the rear of the carriage for cover and shoot Murdoch in the head while he and Jeb gawked at you running into the trees.”

“Then we catch Jeb in a crossfire, shoot low to keep him alive. Make him tell us where his loot’s buried!” Sukey screamed the Cherokee war cry, face and arms to the sky, Joe’s huge knife grasped in her tiny fist.

Dolley fought the urge to scream along with Sukey, but most of the Rangers joined the girl, and the forest echoed with their voices.

**

Major Brown watched Mrs. Madison and Sukey as they stood beside the graves of the slain brigands, heads bowed in prayer. The events of the past two months had not transformed them into something new, but had added a new dimension to their lives. A large piece of their personal destiny had been removed from the box labeled “uncontrollable circumstances” and been placed squarely in their hands, subject to their decision, not the decision of others. The effect on Sukey was more profound, since the young girl was still developing her sense of identity. He could only imagine what she would be like as an adult. No wonder Sergeant Killian was attracted to her. He was a professional soldier, and now, essentially, so was she.

He leaned against a tree to take the weight off his still-mending leg and continued to scan the forest for threats. After a few minutes the women said ‘amen’, embraced, and turned toward him.

“Praying for their souls?” he asked.

Mrs. Madison shook her head. “No. Their souls are what they made them to be through a lifetime of bad decisions. God’s justice began the moment they died, and will continue for all eternity. Everyone talks about God’s love, but without a clear understanding of God’s justice, the judge might rule with excessive leniency in court and the soldier might hesitate in battle. Both situations can result in disaster. Sukey and I now understand its importance, and were praying for strength.”

“Still bothered by nightmares?”

“Not really.”

“Then why . . . ?”

Her blue eyes glittered with a cold fire. “We are believers in Jesus Christ, Lord of Armies, and as such are soldiers in a much greater conflict. Sometimes that conflict touches this world, as it did here.”

Sukey took her hand, then looked up at him, her eyes serious and intense.

Mrs. Madison continued. “In grace, God gave us the skills we needed to pass that test, though we didn’t know until afterwards. Since then, in grace He worked through you and others to provide us additional skills, physical and spiritual. Evil will come again. Next time it will be stronger. We must be prepared!”

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