Oliver wasn’t certain if it was him or the ground that was shaking. Based on the fact that Uncle John and the soldiers escorting the two captives didn’t appear to be shaking, he thought that it was probably just him.
The prison loomed up ahead of them, gray and intimidating, and Oliver inadvertently stopped in his tracks. He tried to lift his feet, to keep moving and stay ahead of the soldier holding the gun, but found that they wouldn’t go a step further. A soldier behind him poked him gently in the back with his rifle, and Oliver felt terror run through his veins.
“Move it, boy.”
The soldier’s voice was annoyed, but with an undertone of pity in it. Oliver didn’t think that the man was much older than himself.
He tried to lift his feet again, tried to make them go forward to avoid feeling a bullet in the back, but instead the shaking just got worse, and all of his energy was focused on keeping himself standing upright and not collapsing bonelessly on the ground in front of his uncle and all these soldiers. The soldier poked him again, harder this time.
“Didn’t you hear me? Move!”
The soldier sounded angry now, and up ahead of them the others had stopped to wait. Uncle John, who didn’t have a gun pointed directly at him like Oliver did, turned around and met his nephew’s eyes. There was a plea in them, a plea for his nephew to keep walking.
“Oliver,” he said, voice low and steady. “Come on now.”
The shaking went down a bit at the calm tone in his uncle’s voice (because, surely, if they were about to die, then Uncle John wouldn’t sound so calm), but Oliver still found his feet stuck to the ground in fear at the sight of the prison up ahead of them. The soldier dug the end of the rifle further in between his shoulder blades.
“Come on, Oliver. I don’t want to be the one to tell your parents and Lydia that you were shot in the middle of the road. Please, come along.”
The thought of his baby sister hearing that he had had a bullet put through his back and bled to death 100 yards from a British prison finally unstuck Oliver’s feet. He hurried forward with a quick apology to the soldier who had held the gun between his shoulders, a nagging fear in his head telling him that the soldier might just shoot him anyway for taking so long.
When he and his guard caught up to Uncle John and his guard, they walked the rest of the way to the prison doors without incident.
The war had only just started, so the prison was almost empty except for Oliver, Uncle John, and a few other men captured on Lake Ontario or nearby. The two men were put together in a single cell, which told Oliver that the British were expecting to keep many more people here, and they were only the first.
That was not comforting in the slightest.
The cell was cold, not quite bone chilling yet, but it had the potential to become so very quickly. There was a pot in the corner, clearly meant for use as a toilet. The walls were bare, and Oliver had never been so scared in his life. The moment that the British soldiers had closed and locked the cell door, Oliver had walked slowly to the far corner of the cell, sank down against the wall, and wrapped his arms around his knees, burying his face in his lap. It was just starting to sink in: he was a prisoner. He was going to spend God-knows how long in this place. Depending on how the war went, he might never go home again, might never sail the lake, or eat his Mama’s cooking, or hug Lydia. He could die here.
A single sob tore its way loose from his throat as the full reality of the situation hit him like a bag of bricks to the head. Then the tears tore their way free from his steadily welling eyes, and Oliver was crying into his arms like he hadn’t done since he was a child younger than Caroline was now.
He cried until he felt a hand on his shoulder, and remembered suddenly that he wasn’t alone in the cell. Embarrassment began to register along with the fear as he realized that he was sobbing like a baby in front of his Uncle. Keeping his face down so that Uncle John couldn’t see as well as hear the tears, he tried to whimper out an apology and stop his crying.
“I’m s-sorry Uncle J-John. R-really, I’m-”
His Uncle cut him off with a crushing hug, and Oliver melted bonelessly into the warmth of his arms. Uncle John’s hands, calloused from working in the shipyard, stroked gently through Oliver’s short hair, and Oliver continued to cry as his uncle whispered comforting words to him.
“It’ll be alright, Oliver. It’ll be okay.”
“I… I’m f-frightened,” Oliver admitted, ashamed, and Uncle John made a hushing noise.
“I know, child. It’s alright. I’m frightened too. But, you know what?” Uncle John took Oliver’s chin in his hand and forced him to look up into his eyes, even as the tears continued to drip.
“I’m not going to let anything happen to you. I’m going to protect you, Oliver. We’re going to get through this, and you will be alright. You are going to be home before you know it. Do you understand me?”
Oliver nodded, and Uncle John wrapped his arms around him again. Although he had never really done so before, Oliver hugged him back, and let his uncle’s hand rub up and down his back until he cried himself to sleep.