The 1757 New York frontier is home to the Oneida tribe and to British colonists, yet their feet rarely walk the same paths.
On the day Fort William Henry falls, Major Reginald Aubrey is beside himself with grief. His son, born that day, has died in the arms of his sleeping wife. When Reginald comes across an Oneida mother with newborn twins, one white, one brown, he makes a choice that will haunt the lives of all involved. He steals the white baby and leaves his own child behind. Reginald’s wife and foundling daughter, Anna, never suspect the truth about the boy they call William, but Reginald is wracked by regret that only intensifies with time, as his secret spreads its devastating ripples.
When the long buried truth comes to light, can an unlikely friendship forged at the wood’s edge provide a way forward? For a father tormented by fear of judgment, another by lust for vengeance. For a mother still grieving her lost child. For a brother who feels his twin’s absence, another unaware of his twin’s existence. And for Anna, who loves them both—Two Hawks, the mysterious Oneida boy she meets in secret, and William, her brother. As paths long divided collide, how will God direct the feet of those who follow Him?
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August 9, 1757
A white flag flew over Fort William Henry. The guns were silent now, yet the echo of cannon-fire thumped and roared in the ears of Reginald Aubrey, officer of His Majesty’s Royal Americans.
Emerging from the hospital casemate with a bundle in his arms, Reginald squinted at the splintered bastion where the white flag hung, wilted and still in the humid air. Lieutenant Colonel Monro, the fort’s commanding officer, had ordered it raised at dawn—to the mingled relief and dread of the dazed British regulars and colonials trapped within the fort.
Though he’d come through six days of siege bearing no worse than a scratch—and the new field rank of major—beneath Reginald’s scuffed red coat, his shirt clung sweat-soaked to his skin. Straggles of hair lay plastered to his temples in the midday heat. Yet his bones ached as though it was winter, and he a man three times his five-and- twenty years.
Earlier an officer had gone forth to hash out the particulars of the fort’s surrender with the French general, the Marquis de Montcalm. Standing outside the hospital with his bundle, Reginald had the news of Montcalm’s terms from Lieutenant Jones, one of the few fellow Welshmen in his battalion.
“No prisoners, sir. That’s the word come down.” Jones’s eyes were bloodshot, his haggard face soot-blackened. “Every soul what can walk will be escorted safe under guard to Fort Edward, under parole . . .”
Jones went on detailing the articles of capitulation, but Reginald’s mind latched on to the mention of Fort Edward, letting the rest stream past. Fort Edward, some fifteen miles by wilderness road, where General Webb commanded a garrison two thousand strong, troops he’d not seen fit to send to their defense, despite Colonel Monro’s repeated pleas for aid—as it seemed the Almighty Himself had turned His back these past six days on the entreaties of the English. And those of Reginald Aubrey.
Why standest thou afar off, O Lord?
Ringing silence lengthened before Reginald realized Jones had ceased speaking. The lieutenant eyed the bundle Reginald cradled, speculation in his gaze. Hoarse from bellowing commands through the din of mortar and musket fire, Reginald’s voice rasped like a saw through wood. “It might have gone worse for us, Lieutenant. Worse by far.”
“He’s letting us walk out of here with our heads high,” Jones agreed, grudgingly. “I’ll say that for Montcalm.”
Overhead the white flag stirred in a sudden fit of breeze that threatened to clear the battle smoke but brought no relief from the heat.
I am feeble and sore broken: I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart—
Reginald said, “Do you go and form up your men, Jones. Make ready to march.”
“Aye, sir.” Jones saluted, gaze still fixed on Reginald’s cradling arms. “Am I to be congratulating you, Capt—Major, sir? Is it a son?”
Reginald looked down at what he carried. A corner of its wrappings had shifted. He freed a hand to settle it back in place. “That it is.”
All my desire is before thee; and my groaning is not hid from thee—
"Ah, that’s good then. And your wife? She’s well?”
“She is alive, God be thanked.” The words all but choked him.
The lieutenant’s mouth flattened. “For myself, I’d be more inclined toward thanking Providence had it seen fit to prod Webb off his backside.”
It occurred to Reginald he ought to have reprimanded Jones for that remark, but not before the lieutenant had trudged off through the mill of bloodied, filthy soldier-flesh to gather the men of his company in preparation for surrender.
Aye. It might have gone much worse. At least his men weren’t fated to rot in some fetid French prison, awaiting ransom or exchange. Or, worst of terrors, given over to their Indians.
My heart panteth, my strength faileth me—
As for Major Reginald Aubrey of His Majesty’s Royal Americans . . . he and his wife were condemned to live, and to grieve. Turning to carry out the sentence, he descended back into the casemate, in his arms the body of his infant son, born as the last French cannon thundered, dead but half an hour past.