That night, the noise of a single horse broke the unnatural silence so close to the village. Dull orange lights still illuminated the clearing and the area near the road where the village once was, and the lone trooper approaching navigated by them. Trees had fired, and flame-consumed human skeletons rested near their bases. Reid kept riding, though. Skeletons in war were not evidence.
Back to the woods he went, pausing once he was half-way to the clearing to make sure he hadn't been followed. After returning to the unit's camp, his hands had finally stopped shaking. He'd reloaded his pistol and his rifle, knowing he had a task at hand. That somehow, he had to make this right. Or, more accurately, bring the atrocities of Cavendish to light. The average trooper couldn't be blamed for the way the major had manipulated the situation for his delight and perverse joy.
After he waited for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, Reid creeped by moonlight deeper into the forest, finding the clearing using the keen sense of navigation he'd developed while riding for days deep in the Texas frontier. The blanket was still there, wrapped tightly around the young blonde who'd had the misfortune to catch Cavendish's eye.
Carefully, he lifted her up, placing her over his shoulder. Holding her with his left hand, Reid started to walk back, holding the holster of his pistol with his right hand. Even though he was a left-handed man, Reid was almost as good with his right, and good thing too.
"'ere, what we got here?" a voice said. Dan Reid stopped still. He could almost smell Tyler Smith behind him, the lapdog Cavendish had trusted with the location of his small lair. "I reckon you ought to turn around," Smith said. Reid did so, to find himself looking at Smith. The man was short, stooped in a strange way, but more importantly, was pointing the business end of his Model 1860 at Reid's head, from about thirty feet back.
Standing slightly to his side was another of Cavendish's boys, a young ruffian from New England by the name of Tom Jackson. Unfortunately for Jackson, he shared a name with a famous Rebel general. While "Stonewall" Jackson was by all accounts a fierce warrior and honourable man, his namesake in the Union cavalry was suspected by all to be a petty thief and had a tendency to get into fights in the various bars and brothels visited by the common troopers while relaxing in a town. His pistols were holstered, and he seemed happy to let Smith do the talking - or as the case may have been, the shooting.
"Private Smith, Private Jackson," Reid said, his light blue eyes gazing over to the men opposed to him. "Follow me here?"
"Nah, Major Bart sent us to clean up the mess he left here. Seems he felt someone mighta come on his day's fun."
"You call this fun?" Reid said, as he felt his stomach toss. Smith wasn't smart enough to be the leader, but he was cruel enough to revel in the chaos. "Smith, I'm going to put this lady's body down. Y'all don't shoot me yet."
"Now, why you think I'ma shoot you, Reid?"
"You're a traitorous piece of shit, Smith."
"Talk at me like that and I'll gut-shot you just like the bitch got it."
Reid didn't respond yet. He took a moment to lower the body to the ground. "No, you won't. You're going to take me to Cavendish, on account of you're a worm and that's what fucking worms like you do."
"Fuck you, Reid."
"Yeah, well...what the hell is that!" Reid shouted, suddenly, pointing over Smith's shoulder. Instinctively the shorter man twisted, and in a heartbeat, Reid pulled the pistol from its holster and fired. There was a spark and the Colt pistol in Smith's hands went flying. Both men opposing Reid were startled, and both of their hands rose in shock and surrender.
"Christ almighty, you shot the pistol off his hands!" blurted Jackson. His eyes were wide and frightened, as Reid's thumb pulled the hammer back on the pistol.
"Jackson, drop your irons or the next one's in your chest," Reid ordered, calmly. His hands weren't shaking anymore. "Smith, you drop your spare." Both men slowly pulled pistols from holsters and tossed them away.
"I'm taking this girl, and I'm taking her straight to General Grant," Reid said. The plan had been coming together in his mind for some hours, but saying it he knew it was the right thing to do. "When he sees what Cavendish's done, he'll make it right. He'll see what a butcher the man is." The young girl's last words reverberated in his mind.
Smith looked around with surprisingly stealthy eyes, and then his gaze returned to Dan Reid's cold blue stare. "And what's to stop us from telling the boss, having him stop you?"
"Good point," Reid said. The pistol shot again, a dark spot appearing between Smith's eyes. Jackson leaped and closed his eyes. There was a faint hiss, and moist dampness spread over the front of his trousers.
"Christ, I pissed meself," he murmured. "Please, God, don't let the man shoot me."
"I ain't gonna shoot you, Jackson," Reid said.
One eye opened. It was surprisingly dull. "Really?" he asked.
"No." Reid hit him hard in the head with the base of his pistol. The ruffian crumpled, unconscious. Reid took a moment to feel for the man's pulse, then stood up, reloading his pistol first, then gathering the girl's corpse. He walked out of the woods and tied the bundle to the back of his horse, then mounted up. He guessed he had an hour before Cavendish missed his men, and another hour before the search was on. Chattanooga was in flames and it was thirty miles away.
"Hi-yo and away," Reid muttered to his horse, and they started off down the road for the embattled town.
Sunlight was nearing the horizon as Reid trotted towards Chattanooga. It was a crisp November morning. He could smell smoke heavy in the air, having covered a large amount of the distance already. The road was strangely deserted, and Reid hadn't seen more than a couple wagons heading back, wagons surely carrying wounded soldiers to safety and hopeful hospitals further back from the fight.
He wasn't exactly sure what day it was, but as he trotted closer to Chattanooga upon his horse, he knew that the fighting had been going on for at least a day. Five miles out from the town camps, abandoned now, proliferated. The whole of the Union army, seemingly, had been deployed in the fighting.
The woods closed back on the road as Reid continued on. It was a slightly winding road, falling between two hills. The distant sound of artillery had grown stronger, and Reid realized the forward points of the ridges were likely being used as artillery positions to support whatsoever attack was going on.
The sky had gone from black, to purple, and now to a light blue as the sun threatened to peek above the trees. The thunder of the guns wasn't as heavy as Reid had heard. In fact, after a few minutes, they went unnaturally silent.
His ears strained to hear for a few moments, and that's when he noticed it - the sound of hooves from behind. He twisted and looked over his shoulder, but a fortuitous bend in the road hid whosoever it was from his sight - and vice versa. Quietly, he turned, urging his steed into the trees, hiding in the shadowy brush.
Sure enough, after a minute, eight riders came into sight. Reid recognized the first one - Collins, the man who had obviously emerged as Cavendish's lieutenant in carnage. He had droopy, bloodshot eyes and, as Reid recalled, yellowish, rotting teeth that seemed to grant the man terrible breath. Here, he was riding with an unslung carbine, and watching the road ahead.
Reid took in the other men of the party. Major Cavendish hadn't come along - this sort of thing wasn't his scene. If the plot to murder Reid backfired, he could always blame it on Collins. The other names came to light easily. Wesson, O'Malley, Regan, Sherry, Kuntz, and Green. The ones that Reid worried more about were O'Malley, who was an Irish man and a right mean sonofabitch, Kuntz, who was a second-generation German and had a penchant for swords in combat, and Collins himself.
The little column passed, and Reid ushered his horse quietly back onto the road. He sighed, inwardly, and lifted up the Sharps carbine, holding a spare round in his right hand. Carefully, he sighted the gun, and gently squeezed the trigger. It bucked lightly in his hands, and O'Malley slid off his horse, struck instantly dead by the round that thudded into his back and pierced his heart.
Working rapidly, Reid slid the hammer back on the Sharps carbine. He shoved the round and the powder into the chamber, and then sighted again. It had only taken a few seconds to do this, ready as he had been, and the cavalrymen he opposed had twisted around. Their horses were fresh, he'd noticed, meaning they'd rode hard for at least ten, fifteen miles behind him on one steed, then switched to continue the pursuit. His horse was tired and carrying at least an extra hundred pounds of dead weight.
The first carbine shots cracked off and both landed wide, one sparking off a rock about twenty feet to the side of Reid, the second kicking up dirt somewhere behind him. Collins was the furthest away now, and he took a moment to aim at the cavalry sergeant. Reid responded by firing the carbine. This time he aimed at the opposing man's gun, and the carbine leapt, sundered, from Collins's hands, the deflected bullet smacking into his arm and sending him spinning from his mount.
Quickly, Reid's spurs dug into his horse, and the animal took off at a gallop. The experienced sergeant slid the Sharps carbine's strap over his shoulder, then reached across his body to tug the Model 1860 pistol from his right hip. Instead of running away, Reid made his intention clear. He chose to run through the group. There were six left standing and his pistol held six shots.
Two more carbines barked as he drew near, but both went high and wide, as the men were still reacting to the sudden assault. Their leader was down, groaning in pain, and some of the men were concerned about trampling Collins. Kurtz, however, was levelling his pistol in the direction of Reid. Quickly the ex-patriot Texan pulled back the hammer on his Colt, squeezing the trigger. Kurtz cried out as the round took him high in the shoulder, and he was knocked off the horse.
Reid pulled the hammer back once more and took a shot - this time he didn't aim to kill, or anything close, and the round barely missed Regan. The man's white cap, however, was clipped by the round and it flew off the assailant's head. Two more shots, pistols, this time rang out, and Reid felt something sear over his hip, a close graze. He bit his lip, hard, tasting blood, and shot again. With a heavy grunt, Green slumped in his saddle, clutching at his stomach.
Then Reid was through, leaning forward over his horse. The men who were untouched didn't shoot back, watching as the elusive cavalry sergeant continued to charge down the road. They'd been taken by surprise and soundly beaten, and without the more bloodthirsty members of the troop, the survivors lost their interest in the enterprise.
Reid let the horse slow after a furious five minute gallop. He reigned in and let the horse stop after another minute, and then slid down to the ground. He reloaded his pistol and rifle as the horse caught its breath. And then he made sure his package was tied securely. After ten minute, during which no pursuit came, Reid mounted back up. They continued east.
The sun broke over the horizon and temporarily blinded Dan Reid. He shifted, tipping his cap forward to let the brim cast a better shadow over his eyes. The smell of combat was thicker in the air - spent powder, blood, feces and decomposing bodies mingled in with the more natural smoke and earth one would expect in an area that had been torn up by shot, shell, and soldier. Reid rode, finally, into a camp of Union soldiers.
A sentry watched the cavalryman approach, holding his rifled musket at attention, with a sharp-looking bayonet attached to the end. "Halt," he said. Reid obliged, and reigned in his horse. "Who comes?" the man asked. He was young. Scarcely old enough to shave, Reid thought.
"Sergeant Dan Reid, Second Troop, 1st Battalion, 4th Michigan Cavalry," he responded, shifting lightly atop the horse. "Here with important messages for command," he continued.
"Messages for whom," the sentry asked.
"General Grant," Reid responded.
"You'll find the general's tents on Orchard Knob," the sentry said. He shifted and gestured with his bayonet. "I reckon they'll ask a few more questions there." The man waved him off, and Reid rode away, heading for the hill that the boy had indicated. It was a sharp rise, and he could immediately see why Grant would choose it.
As the sentry had suggested, Reid was stopped twice more as he drew near. He was within sight of Grant's tents when a captain stopped Reid with a suspicious eye. "What unit are you from, son," the brash Northerner said.
"4th Michigan, sir."
"You don't sound like you're from Michigan."
"My family's from Michigan, sir, but I was born in Texas. Moved back to Detroit when this shit with the Rebs started. I'm no Reb, sir. I love the Union, my dad loves the Union."
"And you want what, exactly?"
"I want to speak with General Grant."
"Who sent you?" Reid was silent. "Nobody sent you, son?"
"It's not about that. There's something I have to report."
"So tell your commanding officer."
"It's about my commanding officer, sir."
"General Grant doesn't have the time to deal with every little regimental fuss, son. I suggest you get back to your unit."
"Sir, five minutes."
"Here's how it is, Sergeant. I ain't letting nobody who sounds like they're from Texas get within a pistol's shot of Grant. It's my job to keep him safe. You're a liability, and I'm not taking that risk."
Reid stared at the man. "What do you have in that bundle, anyway?" the captain said, moving around.
"It's a girl's body."
"It's a dead girl's body. The men in my unit massacred a village, and they burned 'em all. She got the worst of it, and the man leading my unit caused it to happen."
"These things happen in war, Serge-"
"Not like this, sir. I gotta tell you, I have seen horrors, I've gutted men, I've put holes in them from five feet out with my smokewagon, I've watched skulls get trampled by my horse. It's not like this. I gotta see General Grant."
"General Grant isn't the type of person who deals with these things. In case you hadn't noticed, Sergeant," he said, but then he fell silent. Reid followed the man's gaze.
"What sort of things don't I deal with, Captain Miller?" said a surprisingly soft, but gruff voice. The bearded visage of Ulysses Grant, in a muddy, crumpled uniform covered by a simple private's jacket, was approaching in the morning smog. Reid noticed that Grant's right hand was holding the handle of a pistol as he looked over the fellow. "I'm the commanding officer, aren't I?"
Both men saluted, and then Reid opened his mouth. "Sir," he began, but quickly he was cut off by Miller.
"General Grant, sir, this trooper has minor matters of local occupation. I was about to refer him back to his commanding officer."
"But the man's commanding officer is responsible for the outrages thus committed, correct, Sergeant Reid?" Grant asked. He'd clearly been listening. Reid nodded.
"How bad is it?"
"You're from Texas, son?"
"Hmm. Not planning to shoot me for Pete Longstreet, are you?" Grant said. His lips curved behind his beard. "No, Ol' Pete doesn't play that way. Mr. Miller, stand down, please, and find us a tent. This isn't something we'd all ought to see."
"Yes sir," Miller said. He saluted and moved off. Reid dismounted and looked at Grant.
"You understand I can't deal with this now, but tell me your story and show me the poor girl's body, and I'll sign off on your report."
"I understand, sir," Reid said. After a moment, Grant took the reigns of Reid's horse and led it over to a tent. He had two troopers take the bundled body into a tent and he entered with Reid. The examination only took a few moments, as Reid tersely explained how Cavendish had manipulated the situation.
"By God," Grant muttered, when Reid finished with the ambush he'd put together on the road. He hadn't said anything else during the five or ten minutes Reid had been speaking. "By the grace of God. Bartholomew Cavendish, you said? 4th Michigan?"
"I'll send Miller to arrest him immediately, and the men you said were after you today. You'll not face any charges, Reid. You've done right."
"What'll be the charges?"
"Murder, rape, the usual. Honestly, I doubt we'll hang any of them. War's too bad for that. But we'll make it public that we're trying to bring justice. Always a good story in the paper. This butcher, Cavendish, he won't wear Union colours once we're done, I can promise you that. If we can prove some of the others wanted to kill you, maybe a few will be shot by firing squad. But, we'll have to see, won't we?"
Grant reached over and placed a hand on Reid's shoulder. "You did good to bring this to my attention. I'll draft orders attaching you to my personal train for now. You can read and write?" Reid nodded. "Good. Take the day and write out your story. We're going to be trying to push Bragg off Missionary Ridge today. If it works, we'll move soon. But if it's written down, I'll see to it eventually. I have to begin the preparations for the day, Sergeant."
Grant saluted, a salute promptly returned by Reid. "We'll speak again, Lieutenant."
"Not anymore." Grant smiled and then lifted the canvas tent flap. "I'll send a detail to find a grave for our poor victim. It's the least she deserves after how her life ended, a quiet rest on a picturesque hill. We'll be sending her lots of company before long." With that, Grant left, the flap dropping down and casting shadow back over the tent.