A Forted Frontier Holiday:
A Colonial American Fiction Anthology
A Colonial American Fiction Anthology
Blurb: While harvesting, the German settlement near New Market, Virginia, receives warning of an impending attack by French and Indian war parties. They flee to a quickly cobbled refuge, Fort Providence—for they will surely need to rely on God’s Provision. The forted colonials long to celebrate the holidays and await the arrival of visitors.
Each CQ contributor to this serial will bring their characters into the fort from throughout colonial America. Join us for A Forted Frontier Holiday each Monday on CQ for the next two months!
ENJOY!!! This is our Christmas gift to our faithful followers on Colonial Quills. Many blessings to all of you during this season. And may God bring provision to our northern neighbors hit so hard by the storm.
Inside Fort Providence
Shenandoah Valley, November 1753
Johan had watched through the closing gates of the hastily-constructed fort as the fields of golden wheat were shut out from them—to molder in their absence. The Rousch family nor the others had brought in all the harvest. How would they survive the winter if stuck inside the fort? They’d been cloistered inside for weeks, with no Indian attacks as they’d been warned and no French soldiers breathing down their necks.
With every passing night, Johan grew more restless. If someone did venture outside, he risked being killed. That morning as they’d broke their fast with a tasty pan of fried apples, Suzanne warned him that with six children and another soon to be born, she’d wring his neck if he returned to their acreage. He scoffed, but dared not risk his wife becoming an early widow.
Now, as he straddled a bench in the middle of the fort’s yard, the weight of his predicament settled on his broad shoulders. If he and his family remained here through the winter, he’d have no means of support for them the following year either—not with all his leather ruined and his grain gone.
Adam Zerkle wobbled through the musty packed-dirt of the yard toward Johan, leaning on the boar’s head cane Johan had carved for him during nights spent in front of the fire. The elderly man, cantankerous under normal conditions, bubbled over with vitriol since they’d been forted. The man stank as though he’d not bothered to bathe—despite the rain barrels of water they’d collected and used for all inhabitants. Johan angled his head away from the malodorous man.
“Don’t believe any of this nonsense about an attack—nein! I’m going to my own farm today.” He stabbed at the ground and Nicholas Zerkle hurried from behind to join his father.
“Ja, Papa, I will take you.” Zerkle’s youngest son challenged Johan with his glare. “We didn’t cross an ocean to be imprisoned by our own people. Nor the French.” He narrowed his beady eyes at Suzanne’s back.
Heat started in Johan’s chest, beneath his coarse linen overshirt, woven and constructed by Nicholas’s wife—the flax grown in the elder Zerkle’s expansive fields.
“I can’t let you do that, Mr. Zerkle.” Johan looked to Suzanne, bent over a load of laundry, the half barrel set atop a low wooden bench to accommodate her.
Other women, gathered in the center of the courtyard, shelled beans or laid our vegetable strips to dry. Older children assisted their mothers while younger ones played nearby. How would they feed these kinder if they didn’t bring in some food. Lord, bring us help.
“Who appointed you our master, Rousch?” Nicholas stepped toward Johan, who stood only a finger’s breadth taller, the tallest man in the camp.
Johan clenched his fists. “The people here did.”
Spittle landed at Johan’s feet but he didn’t flinch. With a stone or more muscle on him, he could easily stop young Zerkle but Johan didn’t want to use his strength to do so. Nearby several men checking their weapons turned to watch them.
“I’ve got hams, cured, waiting in the smokehouse,” the old man croaked. “Pumpkins plump on the vine waiting to be brought in here—could feed us all.”
The old man stared at the chickens pecking in the dirt nearby. Those hens were for laying eggs--not for roasting over the fire. The elder Zerkle ran his tongue over his thin lips.
Nicholas raised his chin. “Enough food on Pa’s farm to feed all your brats and then some.” His eyes wandered to Suzanne, just one month shy of delivering their seventh child.
Johan pressed his fists into his thighs knowing he’d pummel the man if he said one more word. God help him he wanted to teach Nicholas a lesson with his fist—as he’d always wanted to correct his brother—but Suzanne and four of their children were nearby.
Clearing his throat, he nodded toward the fort’s heavily guarded entrance. “If there is no stopping you--then be about your business quickly” before someone could enter and attack them. Would others follow suit and depart the fort, risking life and limb?
Nicholas grinned. “I’ll get the horses, Papa.”
With a sigh, the older man creaked toward the huge front gates of Fort Providence.
Suzanne rose with some difficulty and joined Johan, wiping her hands on her apron. Despite her girth from their growing baby, his wife carried herself with regal grace. How could a woman raised at court in Versailles, the granddaughter of a French Marquis, have married him? By God’s will—only He could have brought it about.
Johan bent over to kiss the top of his wife’s head, that reached just above his elbow. Would she have enough nourishment for herself and this baby?
He nuzzled her hair, scented with sweet bayberry soap. “Perhaps I should go with them, my love.”
She bent her head back and looked up at him, her amber eyes wide, her perfect mouth parted. “Non, tu es fou—you are crazy to think such thoughts.”
If only she knew how concerned he was—and how low the supplies were. But he’d not shared that information with her. Not yet.
Exhaling loudly, he pulled her close, feeling their child kick against his own stomach. He pulled back and they both laughed, Suzanne covering her mouth with her tiny hand.
“Do you think we’ll have un enfant de Noël?”
Only God knows if our child will come at Christmas, my love.” And only He knew how long they’d be quartered there, away from their own home, their own belongings, their own memories.
Suzanne fingered her grandmother’s topaz necklace, strung around her elegant neck. Was she thinking the same thing? He kissed the tip of her nose, smiled, then headed to the gate to see if the current guard needed relief.
Another man began to descend, stopped, and called out, “Two men on horseback, fast approaching!”
“Thank God. The Zerkles?” Johan prayed so.
“No.” The tremor in the man’s voice stirred Johan.
Fear fired through Johan’s body from his feet, shoed in his own leather from their tannery, to the top of his head.
“Who?” He inhaled deeply, drawing in the scent of evergreens not far from Fort Providence, and squirrel stew, cooking within, over an open fire.
“Dressed like Indians!” Phillip Sehler, the second sentry, called out.
A nearby militiaman clanged the alarm bell.
“Anybody else behind them?” Johan called up. He cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled as he turned in a circle. “Check all the parapets!”
When he faced the sentries again, Phillip turned and grinned. “One with long silver hair.”
“Gray Badger!” the sentry called down from the other side.
“It’s Christy and son!” Sehler pulled off his hat and waved it. A shout went up. “Christy” resounded throughout the camp and even the children came forward.
Suzanne ran to him, tears streaming down her face. “They have come, praise God. I will go get Sarah. She’ll want to greet William.”
He kissed her, relief coursing through him. Only a moment before he’d imagined Shawnee pouring from the woods, right behind the two newcomers. “Go to Sarah and stay with the little ones, my sweet.” His 16-year-old niece, an orphan, and the colonel’s son were the closest of friends.
“Oui, but send the colonel to me when he is free.” Suzanne stood on tiptoe, one hand clutching her belly.
“Are you all right?”
“Bien, fine.” Her smile trembled.
Johan lifted her hand and kissed her knuckles. “Christy may have word of your brother. But let the young people speak first. William can tell us of Guillame later.” A French soldier in New France, Johan’s brother-in-law was to have rendezvoused with William recently.
Golden eyes flashed in appreciation at him as Suzanne ducked inside the dark doorway of the nearby house. Today she was in better humor. Many of the women, the men, too, had taken to arguing with their spouses—an ungodly habit. Even he had fought with his wife over returning to their acreage to try to save his hides—knowing the tanning solution would soon rot them. He’d finally succumbed to sleep and when he awoke that morning, apologized to her. He vowed to keep a guard over his tongue.
Four men opened the gates in unison allowing entry to the two men on horseback. Just as swiftly as they groaned closed again and a metal bar dropped into place.
Colonel Lee Christy, assigned with the British army to the colonies, rode his gray gelding into camp like the son of aristocrats that he was, perfectly erect, appearing relaxed in his saddle. Yet his eyes, the same silver-gray as his hair and his mount’s shiny coat, scanned the faces in their little community.
Christy dismounted. “We have word from the Shawnee, from William’s grandfather.” The officer handed his reins to one of the younger men.
William remained mounted, his black eyes touching on every female in the camp. When he stopped and stared fixedly at a nearby house, Johan turned. Suzanne crossed to where Sarah stood. With her long blonde hair unbound and a baby cousin on one hip and a toddler on another—Sarah stood in the wood framed doorway, her near-sighted eyes narrowing. William slowly rode forward, bent over his horse, murmuring something to the dark mare, patting her head and stroking her long neck. The other children, clustered in the yard parted, allowing him past.
One of the older boys yelled out, “Sarah Rousch, I think you’ve got a sweetheart.”
Pink colored her cheeks and then a huge smile covered her pretty face. “William?”
He stopped twenty paces from Sarah as Suzanne took their youngest children from Johan’s ward.
“Another rider!” Phillip’s strong voice interrupted Johan’s thoughts. “Two riders!”
Some men picked up long rifles while others grasped hatchets and knives. Several climbed nearby ladders propped against the walls.
“Looks like Shadrach Clark but he’s on Zerkle’s stallion.”
Shad, an experienced and well-respected scout routinely traveled up and down the entire valley and into New France.
“Ho, the fort!” Shad’s baritone voice carried over the hoofbeats of his horse.
Colonel Christy pushed past another man and scrambled up the ladder with amazing alacrity. His silver mane belied his relative youth of only seven and thirty years.
Phillip called down. “He’s got a wounded man.”
And no physician.
Once more the gates were dragged open as the buckskinned man rode in, young Zerkle behind him, unconscious, blood staining Nicholas’s linsey-woolsey shirt.
The End, Part One
(No part of this work may be reprinted without the express permission of the author.)
GIVEAWAY: One commenter will receive a copy of Laura Frantz's "The Frontiersman's Daughter." The drawing for this book will be done on Thanksgiving and announced the following day.
QUESTION: What are you hoping will happen next? What would you want to see happen during the holidays at Fort Providence?
Carrie Fancett Pagels is represented by Joyce Hart, CEO of Hartline Literary Agency. Carrie writes "romantic" historical fiction. She is the Administrator of Colonial Quills and of Overcoming With God, an international group blog. Carrie resides in the historic triangle of Virginia with her husband and son and is very grateful their adult daughter lives close by. She is a Colonial Williamsburg fan and can frequently be found at historic sites doing research.