By the time the men had returned to where Al and the others had waited, John’s face was white as parchment. Jonathan looked up from his wound when he heard the company’s approach.
“What happened, Pa?” the boy looked concernedly at his father’s spectral countenance.
John looked down at his boy and, for a brief moment, saw the face of the young soldier whose life he had just taken. His heart skipped a beat in palpitation.
“We need to move a little ways from here for the time being,” John dodged his son’s question as he took his hand and helped him rise. Jasper picked up the child and the company hurried further into the woods for some temporary cover, at least until tensions were mitigated concerning the corpse they had left in their wake.
As they retreated, John’s mind lingered on the young Union soldier. The boy would never get married, never have children of his own. His mother would mourn for the life her son had scarcely begun. Who was John to deprive a mere child of such? He wanted to leave the pain of this war behind, but was it even possible? What would Fidelia think of him, what would she say to him, if she were here now?
His mind was ripped from his contemplations by Zeb’s voice coming up behind him.
“John. I have a plan. We’ll clear out these bummers yet.” He waited for a response. “Did you hear me?” he barked.
“I heard you, sir.”
“Good,” he half-smiled upon being properly addressed. “I was thinking, why not let’s have Cobb and a couple others find a nice spot near the edge of town where they can stay hidden in the light hours? It may take a couple of days, but they’ll keep an eye out and get an idea of how many men we’re looking at in the area. Then once our scouts see enough of ‘em leave, they can sneak over to the rest of us to join up and plan a raid. We’ll have to time things just so, but if it means getting rid of those yellow-bellied--”
“I think it’ll snow again soon,” John interrupted, motioning to the veil of clouds over their heads. “Could be a storm. Maybe we should focus on finding a spot for shelter first.”
Zeb sighed. “I know we have to keep your family in mind. And our ‘honored guests,’ too, if they’re staying. I suppose you’re right; it wouldn’t hurt to wait until tomorrow morning at the earliest. Bummers’ll probably be riled up ‘till the sun goes down. At least we’ve got one less of them to worry about.” Zeb noticed John wince as he spoke. “Hey, ease up a little. If you hadn’t done what you did, we might’ve been whipped. Next time won’t be such a close call. Anyway, I need to see a man about a horse, so to speak. I’ll catch right up.”