|The Transformation Story Archive||The Visionary Saga|
Brother Against Brother
The light rain that fell from the pale gray sky was making the road slick. Despite the treacherous conditions, the old supply wagon, weighted down heavily with cooking equipment and medical supplies for the Ohio 5th fighting regiment, sank deeply through the muck to the hard packed soil below. The pair of Army mules were pulling the burden easily, but occasionally took a misstep in the muck.
The supplies weren't desperately needed but they were being cautiously guarded nonetheless. The war between the States was now in it's fourth year, and it looked like an end was finally in sight. The South had largely been crushed, and surrender was probably only weeks, at most months, away. There were few who would have predicted a war as long and devastating as this when it all began. Now the Confederacy was on it's knees, and the final blows would come soon.
But the fight raged on and the South, desperately short of all supplies, had taken to raiding supply lines whenever possible. They were getting to be more and more a problem for the Union. In fact, is was unusual for a wagon to be traveling alone now, but they'd been delayed by a damaged wheel and left behind as the rest of the regiment moved forward.
Private George Behan sat on the bench, the reigns in his hands. The water was dripping off his wide brimmed hat steadily, but he didn't want to complain too loudly. The five men who guarded this cart were trudging through the mud by foot. Each man was soaked to the bone and filthy. They kept their rifles ready, but in this weather it was hard to see how they would fire. But being this far into what only a few weeks before had been called the Confederate States of America meant that each man had to stay vigilant, even guarding a simple supply wagon.
"Private!" yelled Sergeant Walls, "How much farther from the encampment?"
Behan looked around at the trees and the hills. He'd been born and raised not far from these parts. He didn't know this area perfectly, but unlike the rest of the regiment, most of whom hailed from Ohio, he'd been here before. "Not too long. At this pace, maybe two more hours."
The tiered looking sergeant nodded and fell back a few steps, tacking back his post opposite the right front wheel. Behan looked around a little more and nodded to himself. Two more hours is about right. he thought. Took us about that long when we came up from Atlanta. Before the war...
A gunshot broke him out of his thoughts. Startled, he looked up in time to see the corporal on his left collapse to the ground. Sergeant Walls had time to shout "Ambush!" before he was thrown backward off his feet by a bullet to the center of his chest..
Behan felt himself freeze in place. He'd been enlisted in the army now since the beginning of the war, but he'd seen little action. He'd never been this close to it, and never in serious danger. For the briefest of moments, he considered urging the mules on as hard as he could, hoping that they could outrun the bullets that were sure to fly his way, when a figure leapt out onto the roadway ahead of him. Instinctively, George reigned in the mules even as the Rebel soldier raised his own rifle. He froze on the spot, thinking his life was over,.
Then the soldier slipped ever so slightly on the sludge and his rifle dipped. As the shot rang out, George watched in terror as the bullet struck a mule in the neck and it slumped where is stood. For the first time, he realized that the other mule had been killed at some point. In his terror, he hadn't even noticed.
Another shot rang out and the Confederate on the road fell dead. George snapped out of his frozen panic and tried to leap from the drivers bench. He was nothing more than a blue target up there. In his haste, he caught his leg in the reigns and felt himself fall head over heels off the drivers seat. A loud snap as he hit the ground was the first indication to him that he had broken his leg.
He heard more shouts, and more shooting. A hand grabbed him roughly on the shoulder. "You all right?" yelled the soldier kneeling next to him. George just shuddered a little and didn't answer.
The young man jumped back to his feet and tried to take a position behind the wagon to fire into the bushes, but as George watched a bullet caused his head to explode like a melon. The body slumped to the ground next to him, spilling blood from the shattered neck into the roadway. George felt the bile rise in his throat, but he reached for the young mans rifle, already loaded. He didn't know if it would fire, the gunpowder probably wet from the rain and mud, but it was his only chance.
Though the spokes of the wheel, he could see that the small-scale battle wasn't going well for either side. The attempted ambush hadn't gone off as planned and it looked like there was little shooting going on anymore. Only two union guards remained, both taking cover behind the heavily loaded cart while they vainly tried to load their rifles.
Two forms suddenly burst from the forest behind the cart, only a few feet from the desperate soldiers. The Rebels were taking advantage of the two solders reloading and charging with bayonets. They were slightly too late.
One of the Union soldiers managed to raise his gun and fire just in time to catch one of the pair in the hip. The soldier, wounded badly by the close range shot, still had a lot of momentum. He plunged the bayonet into the soldiers chest even as he tried to raise his own in defense.
The other Union soldier managed to dodge the charge and smashed the attacker on the head with his rifle butt. Even as he clubbed the solder again in the back of the head, the wounded Confederate ran him through the back with his bayonet.
Through his pain, George struggled to steady the rifle from the headless private. He couldn't survive a fight if the rebel wanted it. With trembling hands desperately tried to keep it from falling back into the water. The rebel soldier soon came around the corner of the wagon and saw that there was another survivor. Both men raised their rifles with the intent to fire, and then stopped.
"George?" asked the soldier quietly.
George didn't answer at first. He was too shocked by what he was seeing. A face that he hadn't seen since before the war, a face streaked with years of blood, tears and heartache. The face of his older brother. "David?"
Shocked as they were about this reunion, neither man lower his rifle. They hadn't parted on the best of terms. When the war started to loom imminent, George had gone to the North to find work, and soon enlisted. His family may have lived in Georgia, but he knew that the South would never succeed on its own. A war was fought with the blood of men, and the North was far larger. Besides, the pay was supposed to be better.
David Behan had gone to fight for Georgia. He couldn't have cared less about slavery. His family didn't have a prospect of ever owning any anyway. But he was a Georgian first and an American second. When George had announced that he was going to enlist with a Northern regiment, they had parted with bitter words.
Now both brothers stood in a light rain, covered in mud and gore, with rifles trained on each other. Neither man looked like he was going to budge.
"You're looking well." Said David quietly, breaking the silence.
George allowed himself a slight smile. "I don't feel well. My leg's busted." He shifted the rifle in his hands.
David seemed to wince more than smile. "One of your comrades in arms took a chunk out of my hip." He said, slightly indicating the huge, bloody gash in his leg. "I don't think that I'm gonna make it."
George didn't dare lower his rifle. "We can get to the surgeon in just a little while. They're just down the road."
His brother shook his head. "I won't let myself me captured." He indicated the supply wagon, "My regiment needs those supplies. I need to get them, no matter what the cost."
George gritted his teeth as he laughed. "You'd kill me over a cartload of cooking supplies?"
"If I need too."
George's smile faded. "But we're brothers." he said quietly.
George didn't want to kill his brother, but he didn't want to die either. He steadied the rifle in his hands. "Brother or not, I'm not going to let you kill me." Almost in a detached manner, he felt his finger close around the trigger and pull back ever so slightly.
"I wouldn't do that." Came the sound of a new voice. In surprise, the pair of enemies turned their rifles on the new target. The old man they pointed their weapons seemed more amused than scared. "I'm glad to see that you're not about to kill each other anymore, but I'm not at all pleased to be the new target."
Both brothers were taken aback by this man. He wore a dark wool overcoat, and even though he seemed soaked to the bone, he didn't seem at all disheveled. His pants were not dirty from walking even a step on the muck coated road. On his head he worn a stove pipe hat, as black as his coat. George at first thought that this man might be a union officer, his dark coat could easily have been wet navy blue. But he seemed far too old to still be an active duty officer and he wore no insignia, no shoulder bars, not even gold buttons on his coat. Somehow, the two brothers unconsciously seemed to feel that this newcomer was a greater threat to them that each other. They kept their rifles trained on the old man.
David nervously fingered his trigger. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
Despite the two weapons pointed at him, he seemed completely at ease. "David, who I am isn't important. In a way, I'm here to help you." He indicated George, "You and George."
George felt his rifle dip ever so slightly. It was possible that this man knew them. After all, they were less than fifty miles from their old home. This man could simply be a traveler from the town in which they grew up. "How do you know us?" he asked.
"I know a lot about the two of you." He indicated David. "Master Sergeant David Behan of the Georgia 65th, a unit all but wiped out in the Battle of Gettysburg. Currently assigned by his commanding officer to raid Union convoys for supplies." He face got grim. "Now dying of a severe wound to the hip, and bleeding from the femoral artery. He'll be dead before the sun sets tonight."
Even as George looked at his brother in shock, the old man settled his eyes on him. "And you, Private George Behan, currently assigned to convoy duty for the Ohio 5th. You've never seen any real action, having been assigned to support duties for most of your four years in the service. You've broken your leg severely, beyond help. It will turn gangrenous and be amputated by the company surgeon, and you'll die of complications within the month."
"Who the hell are you?" shouted David, apparently shaken by the cold prediction of his doom.
The old man shrugged, "A friend." He pointed at the gun in David's hand. "Look, as patient as I am, I still dislike waiting. Either put the gun down and we'll talk, or pull the trigger and we'll talk. Either way is fine with me."
George didn't know what to think as he watched his brother. David was getting steadily paler and had started to shudder slightly. Some of it was fear, but like George, some of it was pain. George could see the emotions, the panic, flow across his brothers expression. In truth, George was feeling much the same. This old man was scaring the hell out of him. There was no earthly reason for him to be so calm in the face of two soldiers with guns.
Finally, David seemed to make up his mind. He pulled the trigger.
There was a loud click as the hammer came down, but no explosion of gunpowder. David and George both seemed stunned. The old man just smiled thinly. "Don't look so shocked. Both of those things were loaded with wet powder. Chances were pretty good that they weren't going to fire." He looked pointedly at George, "You want to test it yourself?"
Somehow, George knew that the old man was right. George let the barrel dip down into the thin layer of muck and gore. "Who are you?" he asked, repeating his brothers question.
The man said nothing, but walked over to David who was still standing and staring at the gun in his hands as if it had betrayed him. The man gently removed the rifle from his unresisting fingers. "Com'on, sit down. You're in no condition to stand." He helped the Confederate sergeant to the ground next to the Union Private.
George and David now sat within inches, but didn't look at each other, didn't converse. The man shook his head grimly. "Is there so much bad blood between the two of you that you are not going to even speak? You have not seen each other in more than four years."
David snorted, "Ever since he left to fight against his home."
George started to protest, but was interrupted. "That's hardly fair, and you know it. He didn't believe in the ideals that the Confederacy stood for, so how could he fight for them?"
David turned on the old man. "Who gives a damn about ideals? I was fighting for Georgia."
"So was I." Said George. "In my own way."
The man in black seemed to find this amusing. "Tell me, George. What ideals were you fighting for? Union? You never really gave that much thought. Slavery? I know that you didn't like it, but you didn't care all that much one way or the other. Not enough to die for it. No, you hadn't gone to the North to fight. You'd gone to work, and the Army was where you found your pay."
The man looked between the two men. "There is little that I can say here today that will heal the rift between you two. I have a feeling, a strong one, that given time you two could have worked out your differences. I know that you still care for each other."
David coughed a couple of times. His face had grown steadily paler over the last several minutes. "He stopped being my brother when he enlisted with the Federals." He said quietly.
"Then why didn't you just shoot him when you saw him?"
"My gun wouldn't fire, it was wet."
"You didn't know that then. Why didn't you run him through with your bayonet? The same as you'd just done to Corporal Fredrick?" asked the old man quietly.
David had no response, and George dared not say anything. He'd felt much the same about his brother for a time, though in reality had assumed him dead since the Battle of Gettysburg. So few of his regiment survived.
The old man sighed and shook his head. "I wish that I could stand here and help the two of you, but frankly I don't have the time. The fact of the matter is that I'm not here because of the two of you, but rather for this cargo wagon."
George looked at him out of shock. "You're here to steal this?" he asked, incredulous.
"No, no. I'm here to make sure that it makes it to the final destination. There are five cases of medical equipment in here. The Ohio 5th is going to capture a number of Confederates, some wounded, by tomorrow evening, and these supplies will be needed." The man walked to the front of the wagon and looked mournfully at the two dead mules. "I see, sergeant, that you had a rather poor shot in your outfit. Or did you plan on moving this wagon without pack animals?" He sighed. "No matter. I guess that I'll have to make due with you two. I just hope that you'll learn to work together again."
The moment that the man stopped talking, the tremendous, nearly blinding pain in George's leg seemed to vanish. A warm feeling spread through his body and he struggled to his feet. Even as he managed to stand upright, his weight shifted and he fell forward. He shook his head and looked at where his hands should be. All he saw were a set of hooves. He turned to call out to his older brother, and was shocked to see a mule struggling to stand on the slick roadway. In surprise more than panic, George brayed loudly.
He felt a warm hand on his new muzzle. "Calm down, George. I know that this is a surprise, but frankly I need you two like this." By this time, David was looking on wide eyed. "Look at this as a second chance. I'll see to it that you two remain together. It won't be an easy life for either of you. But you'll be alive and together."
It took a little pushing, but soon the old man had hitched the two new mules into position. As he finished, the man contemplated simply erasing their minds. Somehow, he knew that neither man would ever be able to fully accept what happened. Already he sensed that David believed this was all part of an injury induced delusion. George was more accepting but was fighting the basic mulish instincts and training that had been imprinted over his thoughts.
The man sighed again and thought better of it. These two brothers deserved a chance to come to terms with each other. It would be a long time, but they'd manage.
Before he urged them forward, the old man surveyed the gory battle scene. The light rain that was still falling was diluting the spilled blood and mixing it with the dark brown muck on the road. Ten young men lay dead all around him. Men that were long beyond help.
He shook his head and looked up at the gray sky above. "How is it possible that anything good could come out of something so horrifying?" he asked. When the sky failed to answer, he simply urged the two mules forward.
He had a long way to go.