Chapter One

The morning of June 15th, 1780, dawned much like any other day before it had. That is to say, the sun rose like it always does, shedding its warm rays of light upon the earth. The rooster crowed, his usual raucous greeting informing all that it was time to be up and about. Hens moved around him placidly - they were accustomed to this routine and found searching for their breakfast far more important. Inside the barn, a cow lowed. It demanded its own food. Overhead on tree branches birds flew to and fro, catching insects, chirping, squabbling. Indeed, morning had dawned on the Santee as it always had - and yet, there was an underlying air of tension invading the atmosphere, threatening any last bit of tranquility that existed there.

A lone figure stood a short distance from her home. All thoughts of feeding hungry animals were abandoned as Ava Wilson listened to the distant sounds of gunfire. The first shots had gone off just as the sun rose, thoroughly alarming her. At first she had supposed it to be nothing overly concerned about as the men frequently got together for training, but as the faint echoes increased to a steady roar, she knew it wasn't the militia practicing today.

It was a battle.

Nervous whispers had been passed among the populace since early spring, of some Tarleton fellow serving under Cornwallis and how far the British had been advancing into the region after the fall of Charles Town. The rumors had increased recently, as everyone wondered if their little community was next in line for a raid. Evidently, they did not need to wonder any longer. Ava bit her lip. Worry stirred in her chest as she recalled all she'd heard of Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and the British Legion. As far as most folk were concerned, he may as well have been the Devil himself for all the havoc he'd wreaked in the countryside already. The recent Battle at Waxhaws - called a massacre by most of her neighbors and the latest letter from her father - was still fresh in everyone's minds. On the twenty-ninth of May, Tarleton had caught up with rebel commander Buford and offered him terms of surrender which Buford refused. What happened after, her father had described as a blood bath in the missive, though he hadn't given any further details.

Just then thick, black smoke rose over treetops in the east. It began as nothing more than a tendril, gradually thickening into dark columns as it continued its ascent. Her mind flashed to last week, when a neighbor, an elderly widow named Mrs. Campbell had visited for a chat. The war dominated the conversation as usual. Always one to enjoy gossip at the best of times, Mrs. Campbell could never resist bringing the latest news with her - the only difference being that ill-fortune had befallen her own kin this time. Her brother, a Mr. Robert Fairfield, owned a very fine plantation not far from the place Buford's force had been defeated. By chance or rotten luck, the battle-weary legionnaires had stumbled across Mr. Fairfield's home in search of someplace to rest for the night. Normally a mild-mannered, peaceable man, Fairfield was most adamant that the British not turn his fields into an encampment (Ava suspected out of concern for his growing crops than any loyalty to either side). Raised tempers led to a scuffle between him and a soldier and in return, the British took control of his plantation by force, burning several outbuildings down when they left. That was not the first time Ava had heard of such.

Her stomach churned as she remembered all of this. Were they all next? For there was no doubt in her mind now as to the origins of that smoke. She'd seen the Taylors' farm when it caught fire five years ago and that looked exactly the same as theirs did.

Another unpleasant realization struck her. The fighting seemed to be awfully close to Crawford's farm. They were a heavily patriotic family and would have had no hesitation defending themselves against Tarleton's men. After learning what had happened to Mr. Fairfield, amongst others, Ava would not put it past the British to make an example of them as well.

She shivered. It was hard to imagine ill befalling them, nor did she wish to. There was some fear for herself as well. Her father was a soldier in the Continental army. Would they consider her as being in open rebellion as well on account of that?

Another shiver shot up her spine. The familiar valley she had grown up in now felt like a strange, dangerous wilderness.

She wanted to be somewhere safe. In the house, her mind screamed, but she rebelled. She was truly no safer indoors than she was out. Besides, there were things needing to be taken care of that couldn't be ignored.

Ava gasped. Daisy! She had nearly forgotten about her! She could hear the poor cow's demands for food growing ever louder. Normally she would be let out to graze for hours, but Ava would not allow that today. She didn't know who might be lurking about and the less any strangers saw of her possessions, the better. Daisy was simply far too valuable to lose.

Picking up her skirts, Ava darted straight to the barn, as if she was being pursued by a terrifying fiend conjured from her worst nightmares.

A few miles away, around the same time that morning, a young man was startled awake by the sharp crack of a rifle being fired off.

He wasted no time springing to action. He threw on his clothes, not caring much if they looked shabby then flew out of his room, snatching his own weapon and ammunition on the way out.

The afternoon sun waxed hot and bright. Ava brushed strands of dark hair away from her face as she walked back to the house. She couldn't help but cast an anxious glance around at her surroundings as if expecting British soldiers to prowl out of the bushes then and there. She stepped inside, making sure to lock the door behind her. She blinked as her eyes adjusted to the dimness of the house after being out in the sun, then made her way to the little sitting-room. It was much brighter here since she had pulled the curtains away from the windows earlier. She loved this room. It was easily the prettiest one in the entire house and many of her happiest memories with her parents were contained here. They flashed through her mind now as she settled down in a chair next to a window, absentmindedly picking up an apron that needed mending. She smiled as they re-surfaced, one by one, the melodious echoes of their laughter filling the room with more warmth than the sunshine spilling over the floorboards.

Her smile faded a bit. Her mother was dead and her father could be struck down by a bullet any day. A battle raged only a short distance away, as many people she knew were possibly being hurt (or worse) trying to defend them all from their enemies. The warmth fled, leaving only the faint glow of an ember.

She needed distraction. Turning her attention back to the apron, she tried to focus on her stitches. It was tedious work and, as people often find out, the less she wanted to think about unpleasant things, the more her mind wandered to them.

The complete absence of anyone but herself at the farm was at the forefront of her mind. Why it should be so, when she had more or less grown accustomed to being by herself, she had no idea. Perhaps it was the events of the morning serving as a stark reminder of her true situation. Either way, the fact remained - she was terribly alone and with the British right on their doorstep, she found herself suddenly wishing that her father was there.

Then she chided herself. Her fellow countrymen suffered similar fates or worse. She was weak indeed if she could not withstand the same, she told herself, the familiar words of her father's ringing through her head.

Yet, as Ava sewed on, attempting to stifle her rising anxiety with those oft-repeated phrases, she found she wasn't wholly convinced.