The ship sliced through the dense, white fog and deep, black night like a child picking its way through a minefield. Raul stood stern faced at the helm, his lion’s gaze piercing the foggy veil, in spite of the extinguished lanterns. He checked his compass to ensure he was still heading West. He did not imagine his twilight years would be spent running guns to the Americas, but life often takes strange paths. At any minute an ironclad monster could appear out of the fog and smash his little ship to pieces with those terrible exploding shells.
Fear held dominion over the ship today. The only sounds were the soft lapping of the waves against the hull and the gentle wooden creak of the ship. His first mate appeared stoic, for the crews sake, but his hands were clenched white knuckled behind him. Miguel Vargas had sailed with Raul for over two decades, ever since he was the ships boy and had served loyally. They were the last remnants of a Great navy that but ever since the French had beaten them, the navy was becoming worthless. It was fitting then he called this ship ‘La Última Esperanza’
‘God is with us, this fog is surely a blessing.’ Miguel whispered, his voice shook a little.
‘We aren’t through yet.’ Raul said, his eyes set sternly into the mist. His first mate moved closer and whispered to him, to be sure no one else could hear.
‘Is it true those ironclads cannons can hit at 3000 yards?’
He looked to his first mate, he seemed unshaken by this information, only frustrated. A new flash of guilt flushed over Raul, he was full of guilt of late.
‘You did not need to join me, Miguel. You owe me nothing.’
‘You owe Agustina nothing, Kapitán.’ Raul was going to speak but he was interrupted. ‘We both lost a lot against the French, this an opportunity to get back at them.’
Raul thanked God almighty for sending him a man as loyal as Miguel. The man knew all his sins and still stood at his side. Raul wouldn’t blame him for turning his back, especially knowing about Agustina and how he defiled her marriage. When she had asked him did he know anyone who could smuggle weapons to the new world, he had volunteered right away. He told her that every Spaniard owed her a debt for her actions in Zaragoza but he knew he was just trying to ease his guilt. She was a hero now, as she should be, and happily married but his transgression still haunted him. This was his penance
‘Is this truly the best crew we can muster?’ Miguel said looking at the terrified faces sneaking around the deck.
‘The days of our great Navy has gone and I am too old to do anything about it.’ Raul said, with a deep sigh. He looked around at the sorry excuse for a crew, they had joined because the Navy was safe and easy in peacetime. There was no one left from the wars, he wanted the Navy to stay great but what could he do? He took off his captain’s hat and smiled at it. He reminded how proud he was when he first put it on. He looked over to his first mate who had silenced a pair of crewmen with a vicious stare. He stared at the hat again for a moment and remembered all the blood, sweat and tears associated with it, all the pride and shame. Then he put it on Miguel’s head.
‘Kapitán?’ He spoke almost fearfully when he realised what had happened. He looked up at the hat as if it were a holy relic from God himself.
‘I won’t come back from this, Miguel. The ship is yours now.’ He smiled down at him with a fatherly pride.
‘I’m honoured I-‘ He was interrupted by a Panicked crewman.
‘SHIP TO STARBOARD!’
The fog had cleared, only momentarily, to reveal the cold iron hide of one of the Union beasts. They were at its rear but even still they wouldn’t have the fire power to even dent it. It was so close they could nearly leap across. Voices could be heard calling from its insides.
‘What do we do?’ One of the younger crew cried to Raul and he honestly didn’t know. Miguel fixed his hat, his face in to a frown and his voice to a gruff commanding growl.
Everyone turned to him shocked, even Raul.
‘This ship won’t survive a single broadside, and we can’t damage it from out here.’ He explained. Raul agreed. He picked up his sabre and colt in the other hand. The ironclad beast began a slow lumbering turn but ‘la última Esperanza’ was headed straight for it. Their little ship hit the goliath and the men screamed their battle cries and leapt across. The deck was empty and they charged to a porthole leading down.
The Union soldiers were in a panic running for their weapons. There was a plume of smoke from the Spaniards heralding several union deaths. They descended down below decks it was too cramped for rifles in here so they were forced to switch to blades. The first Spaniard below decks roared like a lion and cut a man from collarbone to navel. He took a blade in the ribs. A slash to his right took of the arm that had wounded him but and he still managed to stand. His comrades moved in front of him now fighting like wolves defending their injured pack mate. Raul aimed his revolver and fired into the American uniforms. Six shots, each one a man’s death.
Miguel stepped into the fray, untouchable as his namesake the archangel. He dispatched the Yankees like Mik’hael dispatched the devil. The battle was over as suddenly as it began, the Yankee toy sailors lay broken and Miguel stood surrounded by bloodied blue uniforms. He kicked open the door to the engine room where a nervous looking man with too many medals shook and raised his hands.
‘Coward, should we kill him?’ Miguel asked with a disgusted sneer.
‘No, I could use him.’
‘The laws of Chivalry dictate that I must be taken hostage and ransomed back to my family. The Jackson family have a lot of money sirs, I assure you.’
‘Silence Yankee.’ Miguel growled in broken English raising his sword threateningly.
Raul took a moment to gauge the man in front of him. He was young, unexperienced and he trembled visibly. Clearly he was a knight under the American monarchy but hiding in the engine room he had shown his true colours. Raul knew exactly how to deal with this man.
‘I piss on your Chivalry.’ Raul theatrically cocked the hammer back on his gun and pointed it at the man. ‘If you want to live you will do what I say.’ The man nodded, he had gone very pale now and seemed too afraid to talk.
‘How many crew to sail?’ Raul put the barrel of his gun against the man’s sweaty temple.
‘Can you pilot the ship to a destination of my choosing?’
‘Yes…of…of course.’ The man’s mind was beginning to whir, he was planning something. Raul would need to put a stop to that.
He fired beside the man’s ear.
He was so terrified he looked paler the corpses outside.
‘Do not lie.’
‘Honestly sir I can. I can!’ The young man answered trembling uncontrollably. Raul believed him, but he watched him for a few moments in silence, letting the fear really sink in.
‘Good. Do as I say and I will let you go. If you do as you are told, there is no reason we should be… unchivalrous.’
The young man breathed a little easier at that. Raul turned back to Miguel who was looking at him sorrowfully, as if Raul was in front of the firing squad.
‘You can still walk away Kapitán. You don’t owe Agustina your life.’
‘It’s God I need to payback, my friend.’ Raul said, his mind filling up with that beautiful, terrible moment where he lay with Agustina, the treasured, shameful memory. He was truly the devil’s creature. Miguel couldn’t think of anything else to say. He seized his friends hand and shook it for the last time.
Gettysburg stood defiantly against the confederate forces, a dark oil stain on the land and the confederates were the flame. Emile Page stood equally defiant in front of Leuitenant General Richard Ewell. Her Eagle eyes were yellow in this light and were fixed on the sad twitchy little bird of a man. His head stooped to one side as he talked revealing the bald top of his head, coughing weekly.
‘You cannot be this close to the line widow Page.’ The little man said in his shrill lisp. He tried to retreat back to his men but the Emilie stepped in his way.
‘You need soldiers Ewell, we can fight.’
‘Now why do you suppose President Davis made me a major general anyway?’ He added meaninglessly, it was an odd verbal tick of his. ‘Madam, I have campaigned for the Negro to be added to our ranks. They said, and I quote ‘This was impossible.” How do you think they would react to women?’
‘Clearly victory isn’t important to them,’ She said with a withering frown.
A messenger came and gave Ewell the excuse he needed to leave. She stormed off towards, her face reminiscent of warlike Athena, to another woman that followed the army. Anna saw her coming with a face like a thunder. She was checking her supplies, she had lost count of how many times, the last battle had taken a toll on them, and on her.
‘Well at least you got to speak this time.’ Anna said, trying to console Emilie.
‘Damned stubborn old fools will lose this war.’
‘“Of all creatures that breathe and move upon the earth, nothing is bred that is weaker than man.” Anna quoted with a smile. Emilie lifted her skirts and sat on the ground staring at Gettysburg. Why could no one else see how important this city was? They should be using every advantage they could get. Her late husband had said the strength of the South was its people, yet they wouldn’t let all their people fight.
‘There are other ways to help the war effort Emilie.’ She said taking a pair of scissors from her personal effects and adding it to her medical supplies. She admired what the nurse did for the soldiers, but she had married into the Page family, her husband had died fighting this war and now there was no one representing her family, she had to do it. More importantly she wanted to.
‘I don’t want to help the war effort Anna. I want to win the war.’ She said with a smirk.
‘Far be it from me to shatter your dreams but I fear you will not beat the confederates armed with harsh language.’
‘I should use your wit as a sabre.’
‘Tis most reliable.’
Emilie smiled and stared off into the distance. Prehaps she should head home to Rosewell, try to make the place a home again. It surely couldn’t be any more difficult than dealing with these thick headed military fools. The hills of the countryside rolled into the infinite, from here she couldn’t see brothers killing brothers or fat headed Royalists calling for Loyality to a Monarch deserving of none. The lush green was interrupted by sporadic builldings and if Emilie concentrated she could pretend the buildings were not burned out and not full of bodies.
She saw a lone man in the distance coming towards the city and somehow she knew who it was. The chance she took that a distant relative in Spain would sympathise with her struggle had paid off.
‘What would you do if I could find us weapons?’ She asked Anna excitedly. The nurse raised her hand in mock defiance.
‘I would single handedly take Gettysburg,’
‘Seriously?’ The nurse thought for a moment, her eyes going to a distant and dark place. Her face as grim as the reaper. ‘I’ve watched boys I grow up with in screaming agony with bullets in their guts. I’ve spent hours tending to someone just to watch them expire. I just wanna make a difference, if your guns can do that, so be it.’
Emilie nodded. Pleased at the answer, she pointed to a nearby hill.
‘Come with me and we can really make a difference.’
The fighting had been raging all day, the left flank was still pressing the attack with cannon fire and small arms lighting up the fast encroaching night. Raul had provided more weapons and ammo than they had expected and presented them with regards from Agustina de Aragon. Together the two women had recruited other women, all eager to fight. They made their way to the right flank, Emilie had watched the battle and saw that this is where the vital Hills were. These had to be taken and she feared that Ewell was too timid to take it.
The ragtag battalion hid from the sight of both armies and waited for someone to move. The hours crawled past as she expected the cannons to roar and shake the earth with their fury but the fighting seemed concentrated on the left side. She was getting anxious now, doubting her decision. Prehaps she would be more useful on the other flank, maybe there would be no attack on this flank. She had learned much from her husband and her father in law about military strategy but as she skulked in the darkness all she could feel were doubts. Maybe they were right, maybe a battlefield was no place for a woman.
Cemetery Hill erupted in fire. Cannonfire ripped down into the confederate lines as they advanced. Riflefire could be heard from this distance, barely more than a pop but they all knew well that each one could herald a man’s death. Emilie steeled herself ready to advance but took another quick glance at the confederate lines. Ewell’s division hadn’t moved. The timid fool didn’t realise how important this Hill was.
She signalled the advance. No one had any illusions as to what was going to happen to them, but at least they would draw fire from the confederate army. It was almost as if they were invisible, they advanced towards the hill completely unimpeded. The gunfire grew louder and louder as they approached and each cannon seemed to shake their very bones as they got close.
They aimed rifles, hearts pumping louder than the cannons and fired. The Union line swivelled to meet them, and fired into their ragged bunch. Anna died quick and clean in the first volley. Emilie turned and saw Ewell’s division had still not moved. Turning the rest of the woman she saw them trying to reload. They were all terrified but not one of them broke. It filled her with pride and Ewell, more than the enemy, filled her with Fury.
‘Charge you cowards!’ She screamed at them then turned her Eagle’s gaze to the enemy.
‘Bayonets!’ She called to her volunteers. They did as ordered.
The charge didn’t last long. Emilie did make it to the top but she was shot down in a hail of gunfire. Ewell’s division however obeyed the woman’s command. They advanced and by the end of the day they had taken Cementary Hill. By the Third day they had taken Gettysburg.
The Cementary was destroyed in the fighting, the decision to rebuild it was disputed given the state of the rest of the city however the naming of it was unanimous, to this day the Emilie Page Memorial Cementary houses the most patriotic dead in all of America. Even as a mark of respect to the Old Ways the last King of the Americas was interred here, King Albert Washington the third.