Alexander Hamilton, Marquis de Lafayette and John Laurens ride together through the woods of Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia. The three men, under orders from General Washington, survey the area for signs of the British advance. They have ridden for about an hour now, fanning out through the woods then reconnecting ever twenty minutes or so. So far, they have seen only woods and the occasional local.
Hamilton in his role as an aide-de-camp and Laurens as a volunteer aide have both completed some reconnoitering before as part of their duties. Lafayette, for his part, came to the army already commissioned a Major General yet with little field experience. As far as Hamilton can tell, it has been an interesting growing period for the Frenchman, having the rank but needing the training. He does, however, seem eager to learn all he can as he volunteered to join Hamilton and Laurens on their reconnoitering excursion this morning. Hamilton is already quite fond of the man’s unassuming and intelligent nature and believes he will one day make an excellent military leader.
“The last we had of the British advance still puts them well outside the city,” Laurens says as they near the banks of the Brandywine River.
“For now,” Lafayette adds.
“We should travel at least another mile on either side of the bank,” Hamilton says, scanning the tree line.
“Oui,” Lafayette agrees, trotting ahead of them on his white gelding. “I remember a crossing on the map.”
“Yes,” Laurens confirms, their crude map in hand. “If the information is to be trusted.”
Hamilton gives Laurens a look he sees shared by the Marquis. “We must trust what we have.”
“I trust my eyes.”
Lafayette scoffs. “Peu de foi”
Laurens frowns. “It is why we are out here.”
“The British are why we are out here,” Hamilton counters. “l'ennemi.”
Lafayette huffs a short laugh, before pushing his horse on.
Hamilton glances at Laurens again. Laurens favors him with a congenial smile as he puts the map away in his saddlebag. Hamilton smiles back instantly. He thinks of a warm hand on his neck, lips near his and he must look away. It has been only a week since they shared an intimacy – a different sort of intimacy than friendship – and though it has been but little between them yet, Hamilton cannot stop his thoughts returning to it. Laurens is unexpected in this way but not unwelcome.
The two of them ride after the Marquis along the bank of the river through the trees on a well-traveled trail. They soon reach a bridge, Laurens making a note on their map, his face stern with the concentration of a man remembering his maths. Lafayette crosses the bridge, Hamilton following him. Laurens remains on the opposite bank, pushing his horse deeper into the trees. Hamilton veers off to the left into the woods along an offshoot of the path on this bank while Lafayette follows the river. Hamilton makes note of the path in his journal, something they did not have on their map. However, he knows there will be many small paths used by locals which would not make their way to their larger intelligence. Hamilton knows little of Pennsylvania himself except the places they have camped and the tell of Quaker Tories peppering most of the areas around Philadelphia.
Hamilton shakes his head at the thought. “Pacifists.”
While he can understand the idea, in such times as these it is surely an untenable position. What is the maxim? ‘Those that straddle the fence shall eventually be impaled by it?’ He glances through the trees, seeing a flash of red. A closer inspection shows it only to be Lafayette's hat in the distance. No sign of the enemy yet.
Then Hamilton hears a whistle, similar but not quite that of natural a bird; their signal. He follows his path further until he reaches a clearing. He sees a building some yards back from the river with its own estuary and a water wheel. Lafayette is dismounting from his horse by the water's edge.
“Did you call?” Lafayette asks.
Hamilton shakes his head. Then he sees Laurens riding over another bridge over the river at the edge of their clearing. “Laurens?”
“I believe I spied some smoke in the distance.”
“Where?” Hamilton and Lafayette ask together.
Laurens points past the mill. Then he shakes his head. “I cannot be sure, however, with the trees and the distance.”
“That is further from Philadelphia,” Lafayette says, his eyes darting quickly across the river.
“We are still close,” Laurens says.
“They could be camped and waiting,” Hamilton says.
“Waiting for us,” Lafayette says.
“Or waiting to engage.” Laurens swings a leg over one side of his horse, drawing Hamilton's eye at the pull of his breeches, then jumps down beside Lafayette. Laurens steps over to Lafayette holding his map. “If they were to cross the river, it would put them toward the Great Nottingham road, would it not? Straight to Philadelphia.”
“Yet a day's march to make so,” Lafayette says.
“And yet we are between them and Philadelphia,” Hamilton says. Laurens and Lafayette both look up at him still on his horse. Hamilton raises his eyebrows. “They will no doubt expect an engagement but should they wish to provoke one on their terms or wait for us to reach them?”
Laurens blows out a breath.
“Ils préfèrent le pouvoir,” Lafayette says as if to himself then looks up at Hamilton again. “They should want to engage?”
“Control the situation,” Hamilton says with a nod.
He glances at the mill. If what Laurens saw is correct then the British are closer to their camp at Chadd's Ford now, closer to the river then General Howe's troops shall meet their forces sooner rather than later.
Hamilton looks down at the other two men then shifts around to dismount his horse. Being the shortest of their trio his dismount is less graceful as Lafayette's or Laurens' without a block to aid him. Laurens, however, grips Hamilton's hand which he did not realize he had outstretched for support. He lands in the mud, hand in Laurens' for two seconds longer then he lets go. Hamilton sees a subtle smile on Laurens' face out of the corner of his eye while Hamilton makes a show of straightening his hat. Lafayette glances at Laurens then back to Hamilton quickly. Lafayette then steps over to the river, a quirk to his lips, and crouches down to fill up his canteen with the clear water.
Hamilton clears his throat then holds out his hand for the map. He opens the map as Laurens hands it to him, running his finger along the ink, looking for their spot. “If you saw the smoke there then we should be....”
Laurens grips the reigns of their horses, pulling the three of them to a near tree. “To the left.”
Hamilton frowns. He thinks perhaps he should have surveyed the map longer at headquarters before they departed. “If they are encamped and waiting for –”
“Attends – regarde!” Lafayette suddenly shouts.
Before Hamilton can look, however, a gunshot hits the ground between himself and Laurens. Hamilton and Laurens both duck in the same moment. Lafayette dashes back toward them, the canteen dropped in the water.
“Where?” Laurens shouts.
“À travers – across the river!” Lafayette answers.
Hamilton turns and sees a green coat on the bridge, black feathers, not one coat but two, no more –
Laurens grabs Hamilton’s one arm as Lafayette grabs the other, the map falling to the ground.
“We have horses!” Hamilton cries in consternation at their pulling him away from their tied up but clearly nervous steeds.
Before any of them may change their minds, however, another smattering of shots land near their horse, one whinnying in fear, another shot flying close enough to make Laurens jerk.
“There!” Lafayette says, pulling the three of them into the gully of water leading up to the mill.
They jump down into the water, the slight cover of the stone wall and built up earth enclosing the inlet to crouch behind. Lafayette and Laurens already have their side arms drawn.
“Queen’s Rangers,” Hamilton says in an hush he hardly needs. “Do doubt mostly loyalists.”
“If we but had a musket,” Laurens says with obvious annoyance.
“Should they not let us on as représentants of our army?” Lafayette asks. “Nous ne sommes que des éclaireurs.”
“They are scouts too,” Hamilton says to Lafayette's French, “and we did not know the Queen’s Rangers were with the main column.”
“Unless they are the advance force.” Laurens looks at them both. “Unless they plan an attack today?”
Hamilton scoffs. “The British, a surprise?”
Another shot hits the wall making Hamilton pull his face back. He glances to the side at the nick in the stone far too near where his nose had been.
“It matters not now, they do intend us harm,” Laurens says, pouring powder into the barrel of his gun. “We must win this skirmish first and sort our information after.”
Lafayette stands up quickly then ducks down again. “They cross the bridge.”
“We cannot stay here,” Laurens hisses, “A wall is not high ground.”
Hamilton puts his hand on Laurens' shoulder pulling him further back into the waterwheel's track. Laurens looks at him – concern, fear – and then they look up at the mill.
“Inside,” Hamilton and Laurens say just as Lafayette says, “the mill.”
All three laugh at once.
“Go,” Lafayette says.
Hamilton and Lafayette heave themselves over the one side of the stone wall, up the hill toward the front of the mill. Laurens, however, chooses the opposite route toward the back door fully exposed to their opponents nearly over the bridge now.
“Laurens!” Hamilton cries in alarm.
Lafayette, however, grabs Hamilton by the arm and pulls him up the hill, Laurens' hat disappearing from Hamilton's view. He hears the sound of another gunshot and Hamilton's shoulders jerk in apprehension for Laurens beyond his reach. Lafayette, however, keeps the two of them moving until they are around the water wheel and up the hill to the front door of the mill. Lafayette rams his shoulder into the door at the same time that he pulls at a rope near the top of the doorframe. The door opens easily and the two of them tumble inside, quickly closing the door, and Lafayette shuttering the metal lock into place.
“Laurens!” Hamilton shouts.
The mill lies on a hill so while the front entrance is the ground floor up the hill, the door Laurens would have entered would be the floor below, half underground and half-exposed toward the river.
“Who are you?”
Lafayette gasps out, “Monsieur.”
Hamilton turns to see a man, somewhat older than himself but not yet middle age. A burlap sack lies fallen at his feet, some grain spilling into the cracks of the wood floor. Three large mill stones line the wall to Hamilton's left and some sort of large dumbwaiter for the grain lies directly behind the miller almost in the middle of the room. In the far right corner, sit at least a dozen barrels of what must be ready stores of ground wheat or cornmeal.
“I am afraid we must commandeer your mill for but a short while,” Hamilton says, taking off his hat.
“We are in combat… under fire,” Lafayette says. “We pas de mal… we mean no harm to you.”
Hamilton looks around for stairs to find Laurens, placing his hat on a low table near the door, while Lafayette moves toward the far windows.
“You are rebels.”
Hamilton turns and sees Lafayette did the same back toward the mill hand. Hamilton shoots a look at Lafayette who stares back at him.
“We are patriots,” Hamilton says, his eyes shifting to the miller again.
The man's expression is hard, his eyes clearly on Lafayette's pistol still in hand down by his side. The man backs up a few steps. “Get out.”
Lafayette takes off his hat as well, clearly attempting to seem hospitable. “Monsieur, if we could but...”
“It is my mill... my – my father's mill!” The man points at the door. “Get out!”
“To be shot?” Hamilton says incredulously. “Is that what you suggest?”
“Sir, we shall be brief… we… bientot partir… we shall…” Lafayette tries again but stumbles some, his English still not fluent and worse under stress. He gives Hamilton a look.
“We will not be long,” Hamilton interjects, “and we will leave you to your peace but now –”
“Leave!” The man shouts again. “If it is the King's men out there I shall let them in, I shall –”
“You shall not.”
Hamilton turns to see Laurens across the room to the left of the doors, almost hidden behind the upper staircase and before the mill stones, standing at the head of some stairs leading down behind him which Hamilton had not yet seen. Hamilton smiles wide to see not a spot of blood Laurens' person.
Laurens, however, stares at their miller. “You will bear our presence or we shall turn you out.”
“Laurens,” Lafayette hisses.
The man stares back at Laurens. “It is my family's mill.”
“And we shall not harm it but we are using it now.”
They hear the sound of a gunshot and groaning wood below them.
Hamilton's eyes tick to the stairs behind Laurens. “Laurens, the door is –”
“Barricaded, for now, but they shall get inside.”
“As they should.” The man's eyes' shift to a table by another door nearest the barrels Hamilton just now notices. The man takes a few steps to the right. “I should –”
It is then that Hamilton sees the musket leaning beside the side doorframe.
“Stop,” Laurens snaps, quickly aiming his pistol at the man in the same moment that Lafayette says, “Non, monsieur.”
The man freezes, his arm outstretched already. No one moves for a breath then Laurens says. “Perhaps you should sit down.”
Lafayette walks across the room, hat under his arm, and takes the musket. The man glares at him. Lafayette stops beside him. “We shall not harm you, malgré votre choix.”
Lafayette pulls a chair from the other side of the door and stops it beside the man. The man stares Lafayette down for a moment but finally sits in the face of Lafayette's imposing six-foot plus posture. Laurens tosses a coil of rope from where it hangs on the wall to Hamilton.
“It is not that we do not trust you sir,” Laurens says as he pulls his gun arm down to his side again, taking off his hat. “Except that I do not trust you.”
Hamilton hides a smile in a dip of his head as he crouches down beside their miller, tying his arms to the back of the chair. The man makes a noise like a growl but says no more.
Hamilton stands up straight again. Lafayette checks the musket for bullets but it does not appear to be loaded. Hamilton gives the miller an incredulous look. What had he intended to do with his bluff? The man, however, will not return his look.
Lafayette returns the musket to its spot then crosses the room to one of the far windows overlooking the river. “They remain at the bridge.”
Laurens walks toward him, dropping his hat on a barrel. “Too far too shoot?”
“Some trees guard them well.”
Hamilton nods once, finally pulling his pistol and loading it with shot. “Well, then, we should spread ourselves out. Laurens may take the top most floor, Lafayette the middle and I here.”
Lafayette turns his head sharply. “Non. We should concentrate our force here.” He gestures to the three windows along the wall.
“We will have better angles with higher positions,” Hamilton counters. “To flush them forward or encourage their retreat.”
“They have seen us, ils ne reculeront pas,” Lafayette argues. “It is but time until they… avance and this position is best. Higher is ne pas; it would be only less… precision in our shot.”
Hamilton adds powder to his pistol and shakes his head. “I tell you, we must force them now.”
“It hurts none to wait for their move.”
“Who is in command here now?” Hamilton snaps, his pistol ready. “Hmm? We are an army of three in this moment and I –”
“Hamilton...” Laurens starts but Hamilton rushes over him.
“At Trenton I was....”
“It is no matter of command,” Lafayette says calmly though his jaw is tight. “It is a matter of best stratégie.”
“And yours is so?” Hamilton frowns. “Of the three of us, who has had the experience?”
“We have few choices,” Lafayette continues, his voice placating in a way that Hamilton finds grating. “They out number we and –”
“And I have fought such situations before; you would do well to listen to my experience.”
“And I out rank you, mon amie!” Lafayette finally snaps.
Hamilton’s mouth gapes. “Outrank…”
“I do not mean an offense but you cannot ignore such propriety as this. You a Lieutenant Colonel and I, a Major General.”
Hamilton frowns deeply. “In name perhaps, your commission –”
“In name?” Lafayette bristles. “Pensez-vous que je suis un imbécile? I would think you know me as much as this, Hamilton.”
“Je ne veux pas offenser non plus, Marquis,” Hamilton barks, “but I have been on the field in New York and New Jersey and I believe the levels of this mill can give us advantageous position now and you should listen as I say!”
“You would spread us thin when we are outnumbered,” Lafayette counters. “You cannot act… se comporter comme cela, Hamilton… ignore military protocol. I have much still to learn –”
“As much as one battle –“
“But I do learn, moniseur! And you may not be made a General by experience either.”
“I would fare closer!”
“Stop!” Laurens suddenly shouts, moving to stand in the space between Hamilton and Lafayette with a hand up. “Enough! We cannot waste our time with your squabble of command. This is not a true battlefield now. It is a matter of whether we shall shoot them or they us!”
“We should have a plan,” Hamilton says quietly, shamed enough but not deterred.
“Our plan may be made for us,” Lafayette interrupts, his attention draw out the window now.
Hamilton and Laurens move to stand beside him at the window. They see the Rangers moving forward across the open green.
“Go!” Laurens says.
Lafayette moves to the right around a barrel to the next window, shoving it open. Hamilton turns in place and makes for the stairs. He hears the sounds of gunshots against stone as he climbs the stairs to the second level.
On the second floor, Hamilton sees a large box built into the floor which must connect to the mill stones below at the far left wall, large thick beams leading upward. The floor is powdered with wheat dust and Hamilton leaves footprints as he rushes to the windows around the dumbwaiter, past stacks of burlap bags and some empty barrels. Some other large contraption, like a long cylinder stands nearer the windows with grating on the sides. To clean the grain perhaps? Hamilton cannot spare thought to it now. He puts his back against the stone beside the first window as he hears another shot. He looks through the window to see the Rangers half way across the grass. Three leap over the waterway toward the front of the building. Two however, choose Laurens' route of the lower door.
Hamilton pushes up the paneled window, propping it in place with his shoulder so he may aim his pistol down. Fortunately, the two Rangers do not look up. Hamilton aims for the one guarding his compatriot working on the door and fires. The man shouts in surprise falling back. Hamilton thinks he hit the man in the shoulder. The other man pulls the wounded man back closer to the building at an angle Hamilton cannot see. A gunshot sounds from their spot and Hamilton hears glass break on the floor below him. One of the windows? Hamilton frantically fears he may have just caused Laurens or Lafayette to be shot.
Hamilton starts to load his pistol again then hears the sound of banging at the front door.
Hamilton turns and rushes back to the stairs, trying to load his pistol as he goes, dropping a bullet he cannot stop to retrieve. “Laurens!”
He reaches the first level again, the mill wheels creaking, the miller across the room struggling in his chair and Laurens and Lafayette leaning with their shoulders against the front door.
“Are you hurt?” Hamilton asks Laurens.
Laurens looks at him quickly with a jerk of his head that Hamilton has to take as a no. “You shot one?”
“Quatre resetent,” Lafayette says.
“Non, pas mort. It was only a shoulder wound,” Hamilton corrects, suddenly ashamed he did not aim for the head. “It may still be five Rangers.”
“Blast,” Laurens hisses.
“We need a plan,” Lafayette snaps, shooting Hamilton a glare. “We must unite with we less. Oui?”
Hamilton stares at Lafayette for a moment, it feels like a concession with their argument before but one of them must, they do not have the time to argue. “Oui.”
The door bangs again, the sound of rifle butts used against the wood. The door is not as solid as Hamilton should like.
“What would you suggest?” Laurens asks Lafayette.
“We allow them in.”
“What?” Laurens and Hamilton snap at once.
“We allow them in,” Lafayette repeats. “This door will not hold nor below. But they will not expect our opening and we shall have this confusion. They know not what they shall find here; prenez-les par surprise, our terms. We probable shoot one au moins. Then we may lead them above, forced to chase… the, eh, machines will be cover for us.”
“Yes, it will bottle neck,” Hamilton says, the Marquis' logic falling into place. “We lead them into traps.” he points up, “the turn at the stairs is half blind.”
“That is a risk,” Laurens hisses, his eyes on Hamilton.
“You entered through the basement door in full view of their guns!” Hamilton retorts.
Laurens scoffs with a grin. “I did not say I did not take such risks but you two…”
Lafayette smiles. “It shall be a day of risks.”
Finally Hamilton grins as well. “Yes, sir.”
“À présent,” Lafayette says pointing to some barrels as he pushes his shoulder harder into the wood of the door. “We may block the lower stairs. If we –”
Hamilton and Laurens, however, already move understanding what he means. They pick a heavy barrel near the line of mill stones and drag it to the stairs leading below in the corner.
“It's not enough to –” Hamilton starts.
“Just roll it down.”
“Yes, then they have to climb over it.”
“Fish over a barrel.”
Laurens and Hamilton laugh together, straining with the weight of the barrel. Then they reach the head of the stairs and shove. The barrel bounces over three steps before tilting the wrong way and wedging between the wall and one of the building's support beams with a crack. The pair look up at each other again.
“Nothing now but to let them in,” Hamilton says to Laurens.
Laurens stares at Hamilton for a beat, he swallows once, presses his lips together tightly. Then he grips Hamilton's forearm. “Be careful.”
Laurens turns away and Hamilton follows him back to Lafayette.
Lafayette up looks at them from where he still holds fast against the door. “Prêt?”
Laurens cocks his pistol as Hamilton finally adds the bullet and powder to his own. “Yes.”
“I shall take the stair,” Lafayette says, gesturing to the right. “Shoot first, then follow as you can.”
Hamilton nods, pistol in hand, and Laurens drawn up close beside him, his own at the ready. Hamilton suddenly finds it abstractly hilarious that Lafayette still holds his hat under his one arm. Then Lafayette lifts the latch of the door and jumps back onto the stairs. The door slams open, hitting the wall with a crack that brings up dust from the floor. One Ranger stumbles forward with the surprise. Lafayette's shot hits him in the arm so falls to the floor.
“Benning!” Another of the Rangers shouts.
Benning rolls and hits Laurens in the ankles making Laurens stumble back so his shot goes wide, hitting the doorframe. Hamilton pulls the trigger of his gun, a young Ranger directly in front of him. Hamilton’s gun misfires.
Hamilton ducks on instinct as the Ranger fires his musket, hitting the dumbwaiter behind Hamilton instead of his head.
“Yield!” The Ranger behind Hamilton's quarry yells but Lafayette already pounds up the stairs, Hamilton suspects with more force than necessary to draw their attention and encourage chase.
Hamilton jumps back up to standing and grabs the end of the rifle of the boy in front of him. The Ranger squawks in alarm as Hamilton pulls him off balance. Hamilton yanks the rifle out of the boy's hand and throws it aside. He hits the boy across the side of his head with his pistol so the boy falls to the floor. Hamilton looks up to see the green tails of the third Ranger’s coat disappearing up the stairs after Lafayette. It is one to one now.
Hamilton pulls at his sword to guard the man on him, turning to check on Laurens. In the next second several things happen at once – Benning shoves Laurens back so he slams into the dumbwaiter – the two Rangers from below break their door down with enough force that Hamilton hears it from above – the boy at his feet grabs Hamilton's scabbard, trapping the sword inside and pulling Hamilton forward.
“Laurens!” Hamilton shouts as he stumbles, tripping over the boy at his feet, making him curse.
Laurens shoves Benning off him, pulling out his own sword. “Go!” Laurens shouts at Hamilton.
Lafayette told them to follow him, to lead the Rangers higher, less space to fight on the stairs but Hamilton does not wish to leave Laurens behind on his own, not with the men beneath them now inside.
“I said, go!” Laurens shouts again as he slashes Benning, trying to reload his pistol, across the chest with his sword.
Hamilton jumps over the dazed boy and heads for the stairs. He sees the two men coming from the basement. He pauses long enough for them both to mark him. He aims his unload pistol and the two men duck. Then Hamilton runs up the stairs hoping they follow him. Hamilton hears a shout, feet on the stairs behind him. He cuts around the curve and makes it to the second floor.
He sees Lafayette, a man motionless on the floor behind him and blood down Lafayette's temple staining the edge of his powdered hair.
“Behind me,” Hamilton clips out.
“Down!” Lafayette shouts, leveling his gun.
Hamilton rolls to the side, nearly knocking his head on a poll then Lafayette shoots. The man just behind Hamilton falls to the floor, nearly on top of Hamilton.
“Blake!” One Ranger shouts.
Hamilton extracts himself from Blake and gets back on his feet, grabbing the man's fallen pistol. It is still loaded, ready to fire. However, before Hamilton can stand up fully again something hits him hard in the head. Hamilton falls, his spine hitting the floor so he feels it in his hips. He hisses in pain.
Hamilton looks up to see the boy from downstairs looming above him. “Pay you back in kind!”
Hamilton heaves himself forward and grabs the boy around the middle so they fall to the floor together. His head rings but he forces himself to stay focused – stand up, aim his pistol. Hamilton hears the sound of swords, sees movement out of the corner of his eye. He hears Lafayette cry out. Then suddenly the Ranger from the basement who shouted before is in front of Hamilton and the Ranger pushes Hamilton in the chest.
Hamilton falls through empty air for one second then he hits the wood of the stairs, knocks into the stone wall, rolling over, his teeth cutting into his tongue then he lands on the ground floor, his sword hilt clanging loudly. Hamilton cannot open his eyes for one, two, then he groans in the back of his throat and pulls his head up. The room is a blur of brown. He feels his pistol fall out of his hand. He blinks several times. A wave of nausea makes him roll onto his side.
“Hamilton!” Hamilton feels hands on his shoulders. “Are you well? Hamilton?”
Hamilton groans, waves his hand to the side, tries to say he is fine.
“Hamilton, sit up, come now.”
Hamilton finally recognizes the voice as Laurens. “Laurens....”
Hamilton props himself up on his hands, his eyes focusing enough to see Laurens' face close to his. Laurens touches his cheek. “Hamilton, are you hurt?”
Hamilton wonders if he is able to stand for a moment before he realizes it was not Laurens who spoke. He sees then the glint of metal at Laurens' throat and the expression on Laurens' face, eyes angry and his teeth tight. Laurens starts to stand, his arms out to the side.
“You have a sword at my throat,” Laurens replies tersely. “I have no desire to err your grip.”
Hamilton stares up at them. It is the Ranger who threw him down the stairs.
“A dirty play,” Hamilton accuses.
“As well as you, rebel,” the Ranger replies, “your maze of a mill.”
Then Hamilton realizes the pistol he dropped lies beneath him, the pistol with ready shot. Hamilton shifts to his knees keeping the pistol hidden behind him. He feels a stabbing pain that makes him wince and the nausea rise but he cannot mark that now, not with Laurens so disadvantaged.
“Where is my other man?” the Ranger asks Laurens. “He was down here with you.”
“You can well see.” Laurens points with one hand to the other side of the room near a dozen barrels in the corner.
Hamilton sees the man's eyes shift toward where Laurens points. Hamilton grips the pistol beneath him then jolts to his feet, staying steady despite a stabbing in his knee.
Hamilton cocks the pistol and aims it at the man's head. “Let him go!”
The Ranger jerks in alarm but keeps his sword at Lauren's throat. He grabs the lapel of Laurens' coat and pulls Laurens back against his chest so more of Laurens blocks him from harm. “You put it down.”
“I said, let him go.”
“Do you believe you could shoot me down before I cut him open?”
Hamilton presses his lips together, looks at Laurens' face. Laurens stares back at him, very still. He knows Laurens would tell him to risk it. Hamilton's knee aches, his stomach twists, but his arm stays steady. He wants to switches places, he wants to pull Laurens away, he wants to shoot this Ranger right between the eyes.
“I ask once more, release him.”
Ranger shakes his head. “I will release him when you lower your pistol. Have you rebels no honor?”
“I return you the honor I receive. Now release him!”
The man shifts with Laurens, one foot toward the door. “I have another thought. Perhaps I shall take at least one prisoner.”
“Stop,” Hamilton warns, stepping closer so his knee screams protest.
“It is fine,” Laurens says quietly, “Hamilton...”
“Enough talk!” The Ranger snaps.
“Oui.” A loud click suddenly surprises them all as Lafayette stands just behind the Ranger with his gun pressed against the man's head. “Enough talk. Lower your sword.”
No one moves for one long breath, then the Ranger pulls his sword away from Laurens' throat. Hamilton grips Laurens vest with his free hand and pulls him close for one second – away from the Ranger, the sword, from danger. Then Hamilton stumbles, his knee no longer accepting his weight.
Laurens grips his arm, holding him upright. “Hamilton...”
“I may have hurt my knee.”
“Where are my men?” Ranger asks, his eyes on Lafayette's pistol.
“One man is dead,” Lafayette says. “The others live and I would keep them so if you shall cooperate.”
“And Benning?” the Rangers' eyes turn to Laurens.
“Your Benning is secured if bleeding.”
The Ranger frowns. “Scouting should not end in such bloodshed.”
“And it was you who shot at us, sir,” Laurens snaps back.
“We shall follow the codes of war,” Lafayette interrupts the two of them. “You, our prisoners. You have lost.”
Then a shout comes from the top of the stairs. “Captain Farrell!”
Something hits the floor near Lafayette's feet making him jump back toward the front door. The Ranger, Captain Farrell, takes the opening and runs for the stairs.
“Blast!” Laurens snaps, giving chase.
Hamilton sees only Lafayette's hat on the floor. He looks up at Lafayette. They make the same face of anger at the easy trick then follow Laurens up the stairs. As they reach the landing, Hamilton sees Laurens draw his sword but suddenly the Ranger – the boy who continues to try Hamilton's patience – pushes his captain away from harm and he fires his pistol. It is not Laurens, nor Hamilton, who the bullet strikes however, but Lafayette. Lafayette shouts in pain, hitting his knees on the floor, a hand clutching his side.
Hamilton does not think; he reacts. Hamilton's arm flies up, gun ready and he fires where Lafayette had been but a second earlier. The young Ranger's eyes widen in surprise. His pistol falls from his hand and he stumbles against the wall between the two windows overlooking the water wheel. He stares at Hamilton then blood starts to leak out of his chest, staining the white vest under his green coat. Hamilton thinks, 'like Christmas.' Then the boy falls and Hamilton drops his arm.
“The Captain!” Laurens shouts, running after the man now making for the top most level of the mill.
“Lafayette!” Hamilton says bending over the Frenchman. “You are hit.”
Lafayette shakes his head, blood on his hand where he grasps his side. “Ce n'est pas seroius, only a graze I think. Help Laurens.”
Hamilton looks around, wanting to follow Laurens but also not leave Lafayette defenseless. Two Rangers lie dead and the third remains unconscious, slumped against the dumbwaiter.
“Go,” Lafayette says through gritted teeth.
“Stay here,” Hamilton says needlessly as he stands up straight, holsters his pistol, and finally unsheathes his sword.
Hamilton runs around the edge of the bay of the stairs then climbs. He hears commotion above him, clear sounds of fighting.
“Laurens!” Hamilton shouts.
He comes out onto the third level, lower slanted beams crisscrossing the room and the uppermost level of gears to move the mill machinery, large and heavy, a thick leather band around a large circular stone.
Suddenly, Laurens falls into Hamilton’s view over one beam, landing on the floor near the far wall. His sword hits the wall and he flips around, trying to get to his knees but Farrell hits him with what looks like a metal hook and Laurens collapses onto the wood again.
“Farrell!” Hamilton shouts, running at him.
Farrell throws the iron hook at Hamilton but Hamilton manages to dodge. Hamilton slashes with his sword but Farrell ducks behind a pole so Hamilton hits only wood.
“This is useless!” Farrell says. “A skirmish you might win when you will only hang at the end of the war?”
“Save your speech,” Hamilton says, vaulting over a low piece of machinery trailing Farrell. “Yield now!”
Hamilton tries to thrust for Farrell again but he continues to play the mouse to Hamilton's cat and slides to safety under a hanging belt.
“You rebels think you owe no loyalty to a king who has protected our colonies for so long?”
“You think to debate now?” Hamilton says dashing around another beam, so Farrell is exposed. “I think I could convince you of our cause if it were not the sword between us.”
“A rebel fearing taxes?”
“A patriot espousing representation and liberty, sir, or would you prefer shackles under a safe crown?”
“I value loyalty!”
“As I, when it is returned to me.”
Hamilton thrusts with his sword again, just catching Farrell's arm but it is mostly cloth. Farrell jumps back over a beam. Hamilton chases after him, ducking under the machinery belt, losing his sight of Farrell for one moment. Then, as he comes back into the open space nearer the stairs, Farrell clangs against Hamilton’s sword with one of his own. Hamilton barely blocks the hit in his surprise, realizing as he does the sword is Laurens'. They trade strikes for a minute, the only sound metal on metal, until Farrell fakes a thrust causing Hamilton to dodge, and instead head butts Hamilton back into the wall. Hamilton hisses as he hits the wall then Farrell is on him, pinning him against the wall, their swords edge to edge trapped between them.
“You ask me to yield? It is you who should do so.”
“To you or your king?” Hamilton asks through clenched teeth. “Both shall lose.”
Farrell grins, sliding his sword up toward Hamilton's neck with more purchase. Yet before he may strike a blow, he is suddenly pulled back by his collar. Hamilton sags against the wall as he is freed. He sees Laurens haul Farrell away, twisting the sword in Farrell's hand around so it suddenly slashes long across Farrell's cheek and neck. Laurens lets him go abruptly and Farrell falls down, splashing Laurens with blood, dropping the sword and clutching at his neck. He dips forward slowly, blinking at Laurens, his lips moving, until his head rests on the floor and his arms fall away limp; dead in less than a minute.
Laurens breathes heavily. He has blood on his vest and his right hand. Splatters of blood pepper his cheek and around his left eye. Laurens stands still, looking at nothing, as Hamilton sheaths his sword.
Laurens turns his head toward Hamilton. He does not say anything at first just breathing in and out, staring at Hamilton. Until he says, “he would have killed you.”
“I... I did not intend...”
Hamilton steps over to Laurens and grips his clean hand, squeezing it once. He nods in whatever reassurance he can offer. Laurens looks down at their hands together then back up at Hamilton. He nods back. Hamilton reaches up and wipes at some of the blood on Laurens' cheek, the drops smearing into lines. Hamilton frowns once. Then Laurens grips Hamilton's jaw and pulls him close, their chests flush. He pauses for a moment, then when Hamilton does not pull away, Laurens kisses him hard. Hamilton touches Laurens hand on his face, the blood on it, and kisses back. Laurens pulls away just as quickly, still holding Hamilton’s hand.
“I... Hamilton, I...”
Hamilton nods. “I know.”
Laurens lets go of Hamilton’s hand, looking at the gears and wood around them, not at the man lying at their feet.
Then Laurens gasps once. “Lafayette.”
Laurens steps around the dead Ranger and moves for the stairs, picking up his sword where the Ranger dropped it. Hamilton watches him with blood on his face matching Laurens' fingerprints. He thinks this war has a danger he had not thought of before.
Then Hamilton follows Laurens down the steps to the second level. Lafayette stands between the windows, a handkerchief held in a ball at his side.
“Lafayette?” Laurens asks.
Lafayette shakes his head. “It is surface, I shall survive.”
“Unless you should become infected.” Hamilton says, moving closer to try and look at the wound. “We must return you to camp.”
“What will Washington say...” Laurens mutters.
Lafayette huffs a laugh and Hamilton prods at Lafayette's ruined vest. “I cannot see the wound.”
“Then let us simply leave,” Laurens says. “We must inform his Excellency of the Rangers as well. This must mean the main force is close.”
“He fled,” Lafayette says.
“The man here,” Lafayette says. He glances between them, clearly noticing the blood. “None above?” Laurens nods and Lafayette continues. “The ranger here, he fled.” Lafayette shakes his head. “Je ne pouvais pas l'arrêter.”
Laurens frowns and marches past the stairs to a window on the front of the building. He gazes out for a moment then curses under his breath. “And mine from below. They ride fast.”
“Then so should we,” Lafayette says, waving Hamilton off.
“You will bleed more,” Hamilton warns.
“Peut-être ou peut-être pas, but we cannot stay here.”
Hamilton takes a step back from Lafayette, his knee suddenly stabbing with pain. He had not noticed it between their run above and now. What with this sudden agony, he cannot imagine how.
“You both appear worse for the wear,” Laurens says as he walks back over to them.
“It was a fight,” Lafayette says deadpan.
Hamilton cannot help a laugh.
“Come, I shall ride behind you both and, should either of you fall, I will be sure to collect you.”
“How kind,” Hamilton says, careful how he stands now.
The trio move back down the stairs, Lafayette keeping a hand on his wound and Hamilton using the wall for support. Back on the first floor, Hamilton spies the miller still tied to his chair, back against the wall now. He must have slid himself over in an attempt to escape or at least avoid the fray.
Hamilton limps over to him and unties the ropes around his hands. He takes a step back. “We apologize for any damage to your mill and the men left here. We shall send some of our own to remove them when we reach our camp.”
The man stares at him, rubbing at his wrists. “You killed them?”
Hamilton only stares at him. “Our regrets.” Then he turns and walks back to Laurens and Lafayette.
The three of them retrieve their discarded hats and pistols then make their way around the mill and back toward their horses. Laurens keeps a hand on Lafayette's arm and one at Hamilton's back should either of them stumble and need a support. Their horses remain right where they left them, though certainly more jittery than before.
Lafayette climbs up to his seat with just a hand from Laurens but Hamilton must lean heavily on Laurens' shoulder with the pain in his knee. He fears he may have twisted in irregularly.
“Can you ride?” Laurens asks.
Hamilton frowns. He will bloody well ride. “Yes.”
“The Rangers came from our side of the river,” Lafayette says as Laurens climbs onto his horse.
“But they rode away there,” Laurens says, pointing.
“They may know now where our camp is,” Hamilton finishes.
The three men look at each other in concern. Then Lafayette turns his horse about and the three of them canter across the bridge once more, toward camp to warn of the British advance and the Queen’s Rangers with them.
As they ride, Hamilton sees Laurens behind him – sees him slice his sword across the Ranger's throat – thinks of Laurens' lips on his own and the battle they all just endured. Could such a thing as that maybe be worse than what battle may come? Laurens at sword point, Laurens killing for Hamilton’s sake?
Hamilton rides harder and does not think about gunshot wounds or swords but the warning they must deliver.