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About the Author
For well over a half century, Andre Norton was one of the most popular science fiction and fantasy authors in the world. With series such as Time Traders, Solar Queen, Forerunner, Beast Master, Crosstime, and Janus, as well as many standalone novels, her tales of adventure have drawn countless readers to science fiction. Her fantasy novels, including the bestselling Witch World series, her Magic series, and many other unrelated novels, have been popular with readers for decades. Lauded as a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America, she is the recipient of a Life Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Convention. An Ohio native, Norton lived for many years in Winter Park, Florida, and died in March 2005 at her home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
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RIDE WITH MORGAN
The stocky roan switched tail angrily against a persistent fly and lipped water, dripping big drops back to the surface of the brook. His rider moved swiftly, with an economy of action, to unsaddle, wipe the be sweated back with a wisp of last year's dried grass, and wash down each mud-spattered leg with stream water. Always care for the mount first — when a man's life, as well as the safety of his mission, depended on four subordinate legs more than on his own two.
Though he had little claim to a thoroughbred's points, the roan was as much a veteran of the forces as his groom, with all a veteran's ability to accept and enjoy small favors of the immediate present without speculating too much concerning the future. He blew gustily in pleasure under the attention and began to sample a convenient stand of spring green.
His mount cared for, Drew Rennie swung up saddle, blanket, and the meager possessions which he had brought out of Virginia two weeks ago, to the platform in a crooked tree overhanging the brook. He settled beside them on the well-seasoned timbers of the old tree house to rummage through his saddlebags.
The platform had been there a long time — before Chickamauga and the Ohio Raid, before the first roll of drums in '61. Drew pulled a creased shirt out of the bags and sat with it draped over one knee, remembering. ...
Sheldon Barrett and he — they had built it together one hot week in summer — had named it Boone's Fort. And it was the only thing at Red Springs Drew had really ever owned. His dark eyes were fixed now on something more than the branches about him, and his mouth tightened until his face was not quite sullen, only shuttered.
Five years ago — only five years? Yes, five years next month! But the past two years of his own personal freedom — and war — those seemed to equal ten. Now there was no one left to remember the fort's existence, which made it perfect for his present purpose.
The warmth of the sun, beating down through yet young leaves, made Drew brush his battered slouch hat to the flooring and luxuriate in the heat. Sometimes he didn't think he'd ever get the bite of last winter's cold out of his bones. The light pointed up every angle of jaw and cheekbone, making it clear that experience — hard experience — and not years had melted away boyish roundness of chin line, narrowed the watchful eyes ever alert to his surroundings. A cavalry scout was wary, or he ceased to be a scout, or maybe even alive.
Shirt in hand, Drew dropped lightly to the ground and with the same dispatch as he had cared for his horse, made his own toilet, scrubbing his too-thin body with a sigh of content as heartfelt as that the roan had earlier voiced.
The fresh shirt was a dark brown-gray, but the patched breeches were Yankee blue, and the boots he pulled on when he had bathed were also the enemy's gift, good stout leather he'd been lucky enough to find in a supply wagon they had captured a month ago. Butternut shirt, Union pants and boots — the unofficial standard uniform of most any trooper of the Army of the Tennessee in this month of May, 1864. And he had garments which were practically intact. What was one patch on the seat nowadays?
For the first time Drew grinned at his reflection in the small mirror he had been using, when he scraped a half week's accumulation of soft beard from his face. Sure, he was all spruced up now, ready to make a polite courtesy call at the big house. The grin did not fade, but was gone in a flash, leaving no hint of softness now about his gaunt features, no light in the intent, measuring depths of his dark gray eyes.
A call at Red Springs was certainly the last thing in the world for him to consider seriously. His last interview within its walls could still make him wince when he recalled it, word by scalding word. No, there was no place for a Rennie — and a Rebel Rennie to make matters blacker — under the righteous roof of Alexander Mattock!
Hatred could be a red-hot burning to choke a man's throat, leaving him speechless and hurting inside. Since he had ridden out of Red Springs he had often been cold, very often hungry — and under orders willingly, which would have surprised his grandfather — but in another way he had been free as never before in all his life. In the army, the past did not matter at all if one did one's job well. And in the army, the civilian world was as far away as if it were conducted in the cold chasms of the moon.
Drew leaned back against the tree trunk, wanting to yield to the soft wind and the swinging privacy of the embowered tree house, wanting to forget everything and just lie there for a while in the only part of the past he remembered happily.
But he had his orders — horses for General Morgan, horses and information to feed back to that long column of men riding or trudging westward on booted, footsore feet up the trail through the Virginia mountains on the way home to Kentucky. These were men who carried memories of the Ohio defeat last year which they were determined to wipe out this season, just as a lot of them had to flush with gunsmoke the stench of a Northern prison barracks from their nostrils.
And there were horses at Red Springs. To mount Morgan's men on Alexander Mattock's best stock was a prospect which had its appeal. Drew tossed his haversack back to the platform and added his carbine to it. The army Colts in his belt holsters would not be much hindrance while crawling through cover, but the larger weapon might be.
He thumped a measure of dust from his hat, settled it over hair as black as that felt had once been, and crossed the brook with a running leap. The roan lifted his head to watch Drew go and then settled back to grazing. This, too, followed a pattern both man and horse had practiced for a long time.
Drew could almost imagine that he was again hunting Sheldon as a "Shawnee" on the warpath while he dodged from one bush to the next. Only Chickamauga stood between the past and now — and Sheldon Barrett would never again range ahead, in play or earnest.
The scout came out on a small rise where the rails of the fence were cloaked on his side by brush. Drew lay flat, his chin propped upon his crooked arm to look down the gradual incline of the pasture to the training paddock. Beyond that stood the big house, its native brick settling back slowly into the same earth from which it had been molded in 1795.
In the pasture were the brood mares, five of them, each with an attendant foal, all long legs and broom tail, still young enough to be bewildered by so large and new a world. In the paddock. ... Drew's head raised an inch or so, and he pressed forward until his hat was pushed back by the rail. The two-year-old being schooled in the paddock was enough to excite any horseman.
Red Springs' stock right enough, of the Gray Eagle-Ariel breed, which was Alexander Mattock's pride. Born almost black, this colt had shed his baby fur two seasons ago for a dark iron-gray hide which would grow lighter with the years. He had Eclipse's heritage, but he was more than a racing machine. He was — Drew's forehead rasped against the weathered wood of the rail — he was the kind of horse a man could dream about all his days and perhaps find once in a lifetime, if he were lucky! Give that colt three or four more years and there wouldn't be any horse that could touch him. Not in Kentucky, or anywhere else!
He was circling on a leading strap now, throwing his feet in a steady, rhythmic pattern around the hub of a Negro groom who was holding the strap and admiring the action. Mounted on another gray — a mare with a dainty, high-held head — was a woman, her figure trim in a habit almost the same shade of green as the fields.
Drew pulled back. Then he smiled wryly at his instinctive retreat. His aunt, Marianna Forbes, had abilities to be respected, but he very much doubted if she could either sense his presence or see through the leafy wall of his present spy hole. Yet caution dictated that he get about his real business and inspect the fields where the horses he sought should be grazing.
He halted several times during his perimeter march to survey the countryside. And the bits of activity he spied upon began to puzzle him. Aunt Marianna's supervision of the colt's schooling had been the beginning. And he had seen her later, riding out with Rafe, the overseer, to make the daily rounds, a duty which had never been undertaken at Red Springs by any one other than his grandfather.
Aunt Marianna had every right to be at Red Springs. She had been born under its roof, having left it only as a bride to live in Lexington. The war had brought her back when her husband became an officer in the Second Kentucky Cavalry — Union. But now — riding with Rafe, watching in the paddock — where was Alexander Mattock?
Red Springs was his grandfather. Drew found it impossible to think of the house and the estate without the man, though in the past two years he had discovered very few things could be dismissed as impossible. Curiosity made him want to investigate the present mystery. But the memory of his last exit from that house curbed such a desire.
Drew had never been welcome there from the day of his birth within those walls. And the motive for his final flight from there had only provided an added aggravation for his grandfather. A staunch Union supporter wanted no part of a stubborn-willed and defiant grandson who rode with John Hunt Morgan. Drew clung to his somewhat black thoughts as he made his way to the pasture. The escape he had found in the army was no longer so complete when he skulked through these familiar fields.
But there were only two horses grazing peacefully in the field dedicated by custom to the four- and five-year-olds, and neither was of the best stock. One could imagine that Red Springs had already contributed to the service.
Of course, Morgan's men were not the only riders aiming to sweep good horseflesh out of Kentucky blue grass this season, and here the Union cavalry would be favored.
There was a slim chance that a few horses might be in the stables. He debated the chance of that against the risk of discovery and continued debating it as he started back to the tree house.
Drew had known short rations and slim foraging for a long time, but the present pinch in his middle sharpened when he sighted the big house, with its attendant summer kitchen showing a trail of chimney smoke.
Alexander Mattock might have considered his grandson an interloper at Red Springs; certainly the old man never concealed the state of his feelings on that subject. But neither had he, in any way, slighted what he deemed to be his duty toward Drew.
There had been plenty of good clothing — the right sort for a Mattock grandson — and the usual bounteous table set by hospitable Kentucky standards. Just as there had been education, sometimes enforced by the use of a switch when the tutor — imported from Lexington — thought it necessary to impress learning on a rebellious young mind by a painful application in another portion of the body. Education, as well as a blooded horse in the stables, and all the other prerequisites of a young blue-grass grandee. But never any understanding, affection, or sympathy.
That cold behavior — the cutting, weighing, and judgment of every act of childish mischief and boyish recklessness — might have crushed some into a colorless obedience. But it had made of Drew a rebel long before he tugged on the short gray shell jacket of a Confederate cavalryman.
Drew had forgotten the feel of linen next to his now seldom clean skin, the set of broadcloth across the shoulders. And he depended upon the roan's services with appreciation which had nothing to do with boasted bloodlines, having discovered in the army that a cold-blooded horse could keep going on rough forage when a finer bred hunter broke down. But today the famed dinner table at Red Springs was a painful memory to one facing only cold hoecake and stone-hard dried beef.
He had circled back to the brush screening the brook and the tree house. Now he stood very still, his hand sliding one of the heavy Colts out of its holster. The roan was still grazing, paying no attention to a figure who was kneeling on the limb-supported platform and turning over the gear Drew had left piled there.
The scout flitted about a bush, choosing a path which would bring him out at the stranger's back. That same warm sun, now striking from a different angle into the tree house, was bright on a thick tangle of yellow hair, curly enough to provide its owner with a combing problem.
Drew straightened to his full height. The sense of the past which had dogged him all day now struck like a blow. He couldn't help calling aloud that name, even though the soberer part of his brain knew there could be no answer.
The blond head turned, and blue eyes looked at him, startled, across a bowed shoulder. Drew's puzzlement was complete. Not Sheldon, of course, but who? The other's open surprise changed to wide-eyed recognition first.
"Drew!" The hail came in the cracked voice of an adolescent as the other jumped down to face the scout. They stood at almost eye-to-eye level, but the stranger was still all boy, awkwardly unsure of strength or muscle control.
"You must be Boyd —" Drew blinked, something in him still clinging to the memory of Sheldon, Sheldon who had helped to build the tree house. Why, Boyd was only a small boy, usually tagging his impatient elders, not this tall, almost exact copy of his dead brother.
"Sure, I'm Boyd. And it's true then, ain't it, Drew? General Morgan's coming back here? Where?" He glanced over his shoulder once more as if expecting to see a troop prance up through the bushes along the stream.
Drew holstered the revolver. "Rumors of that around?" he asked casually.
"Some," Boyd answered. "The Yankee-lovers called out the Home Guard yesterday. What sort of a chance do they think they'll have against General Morgan?"
Drew moved toward the roan's picket rope. As his fingers closed on that he thought fast. Just as the Mattocks and the Forbeses were Union, the Barretts were, or had been, Southern in sympathy. Most of Kentucky was divided that way now. But what might have been true two years ago was not necessarily a fact today. One took no chances.
"You come back to see your grandfather, Drew?"
"Any reason why I should?" The whole countryside must know very well the state of affairs between Alexander Mattock and Drew Rennie.
"Well, he's been sick for so long. ... Didn't you know about that?" Boyd must have read Drew's answer in his face, for he spilled out the news quickly. "He had some kind of a fit when he heard Murray was killed — —"
Drew dropped the picket rope. "Uncle Murray ... dead?"
Boyd nodded. "Killed at Murfreesboro in sixty-two, but the news didn't come till about a week after the battle. Mr. Mattock was in town when Judge Hagerstorm told him ... just turned red in the face and fell down in the middle of the street. They brought him home, and sometimes he sits outdoors. But he can't walk too good and he talks thick; you can hardly understand him."
"So that's why Aunt Marianna's in charge." Drew thought of Uncle Murray swept away by time and the chances of war as so many others — and no emotion stirred within him. Murray Mattock had firmly agreed with his father concerning the child who was the result of a runaway match between his sister Melanie and a despised Texan. But Uncle Murray's death must indeed have been a paralyzing blow for the old man at Red Springs, with all his pride and his plans for his only son.
"Yes, Cousin Marianna runs Red Springs," Boyd assented, "she and Rafe. They sell horses to the army — the blue bellies." He used the term with the concentration of one determined to say the right thing at the right time.
Drew laughed. And with that spontaneous outburst, years fell away from his somber face. "I take it that you do not approve of blue bellies, Boyd?"
"'Course not! Me, I'm goin' to join General Morgan now. Ain't nobody goin' to keep me from doin' that!" Again his voice scaled up out of control, and he flushed.
"You're rather young — —" Drew began, when the other interrupted him with something close to desperation in his voice.
"No, I ain't too young! That's all I ever hear — too young to do this, too young to be thinkin' about things like that! Well, I ain't much younger than you were, Drew Rennie, when you joined up with Captain Castleman and rode south to join General Morgan — you and Shelly. And you know that, too! I'll be sixteen on the fifteenth of this July. And this time I'm goin'! Where's the General now, Drew?"
Excerpted from "Ride Proud, Rebel!"
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