The midday sun was just reaching its zenith as the woman in the faded blue dress stood on the porch. She was looking out to the dirt road that ran along side what was left of the fence that bordered the old farm. The house behind her had seen better days, but that could be said for just about every house in the county here in the spring of 1865. After four years of what had started out as the War for Southern Independence, the tall brunette considered herself lucky to have a roof over her head at all. Many of her neighbors couldn't make that claim.
Ashley Walsh had been born on this farm some twenty-three years before. Back then, her family had lived in the main house, built a half century before on the high knoll an eighth of a mile up the hill. The house had suffered major damage during a battle between invading Federal troops and Confederate infantry a year before. After that, it was easier for Ashley to move into the smaller house built by her brothers as a wedding present for her and her husband. Aside from the house she grew up in, Ashley also lost something much more dear during those two horrible days.
Her father, Timothy Michael Flynn had suffered a seizure, brought on by the loss of all his family had built, and died right after the opposing armies had moved on. Laying him to rest next to his beloved wife, Ashley had been reminded of what else she had lost in this horrible war.
Her brother, William, so eager to rush off and enlist, died early in '62 at a place called Blue Gap. About six months later, her older brother, Timothy, fell at Clark's Hollow. With him in that fight had been their cousin, Michael, who had been wounded so badly that he also died two weeks later.
The hardest blow, at least to Ashley, was the loss of her husband, Stephen. A Captain who rode with Jeb Stuart, he had fallen at Gettysburg back in '63.
In all, Timothy and Mary Flynn had four sons who had answered the call to the colors. As far as Ashley knew, her younger brothers, Robert and Noah were still alive. They were serving out west with General Johnston, and no mail had come from them for months. For all she knew, Ashley could be the last of the Flynn's. Still, every night she prayed that she wasn't.
At least once a day, Ashley would take a few minutes from her labors and just stare down the road. As impossible as she knew it was, she sometimes hoped she might see Robert or Noah coming down the road, headed for home. There was not much else to live for these days, except the hope that tomorrow would be better.
The war, which had begun among such high spirits, had gone very badly for the South and the State of Virginia. Two days ago, one of her few remaining neighbors had brought news from Richmond. It was said that General Lee had taken the Army of Northern Virginia off to fight its last battles. It was taken as an article of faith that the end was near. The question on most everyone's mind was what would come after that.
Ashley turned to head back into the house and get back to work. She certainly had enough to keep her busy. Up until a week ago, she'd had the help of another two sets of hands. An older couple that'd had their own farm burned out by the Yankees. They'd stayed with Ashley over the winter, but with the coming of spring had decided to move on. Even if she'd had the money to hire help, there were few able-bodied men left in the county that weren't off with the Army. At least those she'd trust to be alone with day after day, or more importantly - night after night.
Pausing for a moment, Ashley caught sign of a small group of men on foot, just coming over the rise. They were still too far away to see who they were, or even if they wore blue or gray. Her only certainty was that they were heading her way.
Quick as she could, Ashley went back into the house and reached behind the door, grabbing her father's old hunting rifle. In normal times, the use of such an instrument would be foreign to an alumni of Miss Thompson's School for Young Ladies. That these were not normal times would be overstating the obvious. Ever a practical man, especially when it came to his only daughter, Timothy Flynn had made sure that she knew how to use the weapon, and use it well.
With that weapon primed and in hand, Ashley stood on the porch, waiting for the three men to come within earshot. As they had grew closer, she was able to see that they were wearing what at least once had been Confederate butternut and gray. Their uniforms had seen a great deal of use.
"That's close enough, gentlemen," she said in a loud voice, bringing her gun to bear to emphasize her words and the fact that she knew how to use it.
"Good afternoon, Ma'am," the man in the lead said, stopping short when he spied the gun pointed at him and his fellows. "We're sorry to spook you if we did, but we were wondering if you could spare some scraps for three tired and very hungry fighting men?"
Ashley took in the man with a suspicious eye. He looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties, but wore a long scruffy beard that made him look much older. On the sleeves of the butternut jacket were sergeant's stripes.
The second man was dressed no better and of a similar appearance. His sleeves, however, were bare. The third man, who seemed to stay as far back as he could, looked more boy than man. His clean shaven face seemed half hidden behind what looked like weeks of grime.
"I've no food to share," Ashley said, putting the threat of her firearm behind her words. Then, thinking of her brothers who wore the same uniform as these men, she added, "But you're welcome to fill your canteens at the well."
"We thank you kindly, Ma'am," the sergeant replied.
They started to move off in the direction Ashley had indicated in search of the well when her curiosity prompted to ask them a question.
"Are you part of General Lee's Army?"
"Not directly, Ma'am," the sergeant answered. "We here are part of Hamilton's Militia, or what's left of it anyway. The boys and I figured the fighting's over. I heard tell that old General Lee was going to face off against Grant one last time, then it would be all over. Don't seem right to fight and die if you are going to give up in the end anyway."
"I can't say as I blame you," Ashley said, thinking of her own losses and the families that might be waiting at home for these men. The days of riding off for flag and glory were long gone, if they ever existed in the first place.
The soldiers filled their canteens at the well, then came back to thank Ashley once more. Before they left for good, she had managed to find a little food for them to share. She liked to think that if Robert and Noah were still out there and traveling some back road, someone would be as kind to them as well.
Once they were out of sight, Ashley finally went back to her chores. The visit of the soldiers had left her far behind, but she really didn't mind. After all, who was going to notice?
A few hours later, Ashley herself went to the well to get water to boil some vegetables for dinner. There she found an old battered and torn haversack. One of the soldiers must've dropped it. Curious, she looked inside. There were a few letters and other keepsakes, as well as the usual army fare. It seemed a pity for one of them to have carried it for so long, only to lose it on the way home. She wondered which one of them it had belonged to.
Just then, a loud shout from the direction of the road interrupted her thoughts. Startled, Ashley looked up to again see motion on the road. A sudden look of panic filled her normally composed face. This time there were two men, both on horseback, riding up the road. Despite the dust turned up by their travel, it was clear to her that both wore Federal Blue.
Letting the worn haversack fall from her hands, Ashley ran as fast as she could for the house, and the protective rifle she had left there...
Ashley's first sensation upon waking was a pain and stiffness in her arms and back. It only took a moment for her to realize why. She was now in the small house, spread eagle across the kitchen table; her arms tied to the table and her legs hanging over the side. Rope also tied her ankles to the bottom legs of the table. As she tried to free herself, she could hear the sounds of someone rummaging through the other rooms, cursing that there was little of value to find.
Through a dim haze, Ashley remembered reaching the porch and the waiting gun, just as the two blue clad cavalrymen pulled up behind her. Both had pistols drawn as the closest to her leapt off his mount and onto the porch. She recalled his gloved hand on her arm pulling her backwards, away from her rifle. Then a hard pain from the side of her head that ended in blackness. She could only guess he'd hit her with his pistol to keep her from the rifle. That they had further bound her in this manner, rather than simply shoot her as she was sure they would have a man, didn't bode well.
"Hey Sarge, she's awake!" Ashley heard a voice call out from the doorway between the kitchen and the parlor.
Tilting her head, she saw one of the two troopers stepping into the room. He was a tall young man on the early side of twenty, if that, with short black hair and matching mustache. His lower face was covered with a few days stubble. The uniform he wore was indeed the hated Yankee blue.
The soldier, whose name she would learn was Butler, now stood silent at the bottom of the kitchen table. Ashley could see his eyes and the look she found there didn't give her much encouragement. Men too long without the company of a woman, especially those immersed in the horrors of war, were capable of anything.
"What are you yelling about, Butler?" Sergeant Virgil Rourke said as he stepped into the kitchen as well.
"I said she's awake," the private repeated.
"So she is," Rourke said as he moved alongside the table.
A cold chill filled Ashley's breast. The look in the older man's eyes made Butler's look tame in comparison. The redhead stoked his tight beard as his eyes moved up and down his helpless prisoner.
"It's a good thing we tied this rebel bitch up after we caught her," the NCO said. "It looks like she's the only valuable thing in this lousy place."
Fear filled Ashley's eyes at those words, while excitement filled those of the younger soldier. She pulled at her bonds, only to find once more that they were stronger than her arms.
"Sarge, are you sure we should be doing this?" the younger of the two said, having a moment of conscience. "Captain Rossi said..."
"Captain Rossi's not here!" Rourke snapped back. "Besides, haven't you ever heard of spoils of war. She had a gun in her hand when we caught her. I could've shot her instead of simply giv'n her the butt of my gun."
Private Butler was about to mention that Captain Rossi had also said that once someone was a prisoner, they were supposed to be treated according to the rules. What Rourke said next, however, wiped out any concerns the young man might have had.
"Have you ever been with a woman, Jimmy?"
His silence answered the Sergeant's question.
"Then this is your chance, boy," the older man said. "And with a white woman too. Not one of those darkies some of your friends have been fornicating with."
As the Union Army had occupied an ever-shrinking Confederate States, they had encountered a numbers of slaves who had either been freed by previous divisions or had simply run away. Some of the black women had been willing to show their happiness in their newfound freedom in a most physical and satisfying way. Despite his disparaging remark about them, Rourke himself had partaken of their ebony charms more than once.
Jimmy Butler looked down again at Ashley. He had to say she was probably the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Not that he had seen a great many of them, excepting kinfolk of course. The woman spread out before him was as tall as he was, with long brown hair tied back with a ribbon. Of course the first thing he noticed about her were her large breasts. They were almost as big as his cousin, Alice's. He'd walked in on Alice taking a bath once and the memory of it still made him stiff.
A stiffness that he now also felt as he undressed Ashley with his eyes. Sergeant Rourke however, preferred a more direct view. Grabbing the top of Ashley's threadbare dress, he ripped it open, exposing the pale flesh of her breasts.
Butler's mouth dropped open as she saw the dark pink nipples that capped her mounds. It was a lot more than he had ever seen of Cousin Alice.
"Ain't they some set of titties," said Rourke as he reached out to touch them.
"Don't touch me, you Yankee scum!" Ashley yelled out, using language she had never imagined she would ever use.
"Figures a rebel bitch like you would have a foul mouth," Rourke laughed as he roughly grabbed her breast, pressing his thumbnail against the nipple. "Well I have something that I can use to fill that mouth and shut you up."
To illustrate his point, Rourke grabbed his crotch with his free hand and pumped his erect cock a few times through his pants. Ashley's face turned pale.
The thought of the Sergeant's manhood being used in the manner he indicated, terrified her. Once, right after she had first been married, she'd heard her brothers talking about a girl in the back woods who did such a thing with her mouth. At the time, Ashley had refused to believe it could be true.
"I bet you're one of those southern girls who prefers her darkies, aren't you?" the crass soldier said, assuming that all southerners owned slaves. "Just like your men prefer their nigger wenches. Well I'm going to show you what it's like to be fucked by a white man. Then when I'm done, you can give the boy a turn too."
Unable to do more than scream in anger, and unwilling to give the Yankees the satisfaction of hearing her do just that, Ashley closed her eyes and tried to bear the unbearable. They might be able to degrade her body, but they couldn't defile her mind.
Pushing Butler out of the way, Rourke took up position between Ashley's legs. His rough hands slid up her legs, taking in the softness of her skin. Butler watched as his Sergeant's hands disappeared under the faded dress, gripping the sides of an equally worn undergarment. With strength born of lust, he ripped the material until he could pull it off her body. Ashley bit her lip as she tried to show no reaction.
He pushed up her dress to expose her womanhood. The younger man leaned over to look over the Sergeant's shoulder at the bushy brown mound between Ashley's legs. He watched in fascination as Butler took his hand and rubbed it hard against her mound, pushing two fingers up inside her.
"Goddamn it, you're a dry bitch," Rourke said as his fingers encountered an unexpected friction. "Well that's just too bad for you."
Inwardly, Ashley felt a small measure of satisfaction. Even if it was harder on her, she was thankful that her body hadn't betrayed her. She wouldn't watch as Rourke opened his pants and pulled them down to his ankles. He opened his long underwear to expose his manhood, rubbing it a few times once it was free. Raising his hand to his face, he spit on it a few times, filling the palm with his saliva.
He brought it to his cock, rubbing the makeshift lubricant over the head of it. An evil leer filled his face as he guided his cock to the entrance of her womanhood, pressing against it. Putting all of his weight behind it, he pushed his way inside her.
Ashley screamed, this was an assault she couldn't ignore. The cry of pain only seemed to excite her rapist even more. Grabbing both of her legs, he began to thrust in and out of her with a savage fury. It was far worse then her first time, for Stephen had been the gentlest of lovers.
"Sarge, did you hear something?" Butler asked as he turned in the direction of the kitchen window.
"It's just the fucking horses," Rourke angrily snapped back at him for interrupting his fun. "Now shut up or I won't let you have a turn at this Reb whore."
The thought that he might lose his chance to be with a woman bothered Butler greatly, but not as much as the chance that Captain Rossi or one of the other patrols might discover them. Rossi had some mighty particular ideas about how the Rebels should be treated after the surrender that everyone said was coming soon. As much as he wanted to be with a woman, the nineteen-year-old didn't want to pay for it at the end of a rope.
Finally, deciding Rourke wouldn't even notice his absence, Butler decided to step outside and make sure everything was all right. He'd be back before Rourke knew it.
As quiet as he could, although he figured Rourke wouldn't hear a Calvary charge right now, the Private undid the lock of the door that let to the outside from the kitchen. As he did, he began to draw his pistol from its holster. He had only opened the door an inch or two when it suddenly slammed back into him with enough force to knock him off his feet.
The sudden motion of Butler falling, more than the noise he made as he crashed among the pots and pans, caused Rourke to stop and look up. It took him a long moment to register the image in front of him, not realizing it would be the last thing he ever saw.
In the two seconds left to him, the soldier in Rourke recognized the weapon pointing in his direction from a few feet away as an 1860 blue steel army revolver. He remembered the fact that it fired a 44 caliber round less than a half second before one of those bullets shattered the left side of his skull.
The force of the close range shot was enough to send the already dead sergeant tumbling away from Ashley and onto the floor. Half of his brains were scattered across the kitchen walls and the manhood that he was been so proud of had already wilted into insignificance.
Stunned both by his fall and the loud, deafening explosion that had followed it, Private Butler looked up and saw a smoky figure in butternut and gray. He brought up his own pistol to fire, but was already dead before his finger could close on the trigger. The second shot from the Confederate revolver had passed right through his heart. From the time the door had first burst open on Butler, to the time his heart abruptly stopped, only eight seconds had passed.
Giving the second corpse no more thought than the first, the new arrival turned to Ashley. Only now was she aware that something had happened. She looked up and saw that another had taken Rourke's place at the foot of the table. It took a second for her to focus, then she recognized the face as belonging to the youngest of the Confederate soldiers she had given food and water to this afternoon.
"I had come back for my haversack," he said in a low quiet voice.
A large knife appeared in the young man's hand, the type of which Ashley had once seen a drawing of in the newspaper. Her husband had said it was called a Bowie knife. The new arrival looked down at the brunette's exposed sex for a brief moment, just long enough to see that the Yankee soldier had died unsatisfied. Then with a practiced precision, he cut Ashley free.
"Oh God," she gasped as she looked down and saw the bloody bodies of her two attackers.
"It's no more than they deserved," her rescuer said unemotionally.
For a moment, Ashley wondered how he could be so cold, then realized that having been in the army, the young man had probably seen death on a scale as to make what just happened here seem insignificant.
"Thank you," Ashley managed to say, holding down the bile she felt in her throat.
The soldier merely shrugged and nodded an acknowledgment. Then he said. "They were either scouts or stragglers so I doubt they'll be missed for a while. But we need to get rid of the bodies right away, just in case."
As he stepped closer to the window to glance out it, Ashley got her first really good look at him. As it was this afternoon, a layer of dirt covered both his clothes and his face, but she could see enough to reconfirm her earlier thoughts.
"He can't be more than a boy," she said to herself, "sixteen years old at most."
Then she reminded herself that whatever his age, he had just killed two men in less time then it took him to think about it. It also occurred to her that despite her state of near undress, the top of her dress had been ripped enough to give him a good look at her breasts.
That is if he cared to look, which he seemingly didn't. An omission that surprised Ashley. She excused herself for a few minutes while she changed into a fresh but equally worn dress.
As she helped him carry the bodies outside, thankful that he had first covered Sergeant Rourke's face, or what was left of it, with a blanket, Ashley learned what had happened.
Splitting off from his companions, the young man, whose name she now learned was John Warren, had doubled back to the farm to look for the haversack he had finally realized he'd lost. When you only own what you carry on you, he explained, the little you had became all the more important. The boy was an orphan she further learned, and was eighteen despite his looks. The letters in his bag had been his last connection with his parents.
When he reached the fence at the road, he'd seen the two horses tied up outside. During the last two years he'd seen the accoutrements on them enough times to know they belonged to Yankee cavalry. He made his way to the house, carefully looking into the kitchen window. That had been the noise Butler had heard.
If he'd reacted better to his instincts, John had commented, Private Butler might be the one still alive. Still recovering from the shock of everything that had happened, Ashley didn't want to think about where she might be right now if the outcome of the situation had been reversed.
"I've tied them to their horses," John said. "I'll take them about a mile or two down the road and cut the horses loose. With luck, they'll be far away from here before anyone finds them."
"I wish we could keep those horses," Ashley said, her mind always trying to be practical and remembering that earlier Federal patrols had taken what few horses they'd had. "They'd be a big help around here."
"They carry US Army brands," John said, pointing to the small mark on the closest horse. "No quicker way to a noose than to be found with one of those."
Ashley realized he was right.
"Will you come back after you're done?" Ashley asked as John climbed up on the back of the horse carrying the smaller body of Private Butler and started to lead the two horses away.
The young soldier looked at her for a moment, a puzzled look on his face.
"So we can find your haversack," Ashley said. "It'll be dark soon enough and we won't be able to look for it until morning's light," she lied.
Remembering the task that had brought him back to the farm, John said he would be back in a few hours. Ashley waited until be was gone from sight before she headed to the well to get the haversack and the bucket she had left there. She would need the water to clean up what was left of the late unlamented Sergeant Virgil Rourke off her kitchen walls.
Long into the night, Ashley waited for the return of the young soldier. As the hours passed, it got so late she fell asleep in her chair. By the time she awakened to the morning's light, she was sure something had happened to him. A feeling of sadness filled her as she thought of the young man lying hurt or dead along the road somewhere. Or worse, caught by the Yankee Cavalry with the dead bodies of two of their own.
Worried as she was, there were still chores that needed to be done. That was if she wanted to go on eating yet another day. Pouring cold water into a bowl, she splashed it on her face and set out to face the day.
All through the day, and halfway through the next night, Ashley would pause in her labors and look for John. By the time she finally went to sleep that night, she resigned herself to the fact that he wasn't coming back.
About eleven o'clock in the morning on the second day since John had left, Ashley said a prayer over the graves of her parents. As was her habit, she laid what wildflowers she could find by their small stones.
She missed them terribly, her father most of all. She could still hear his voice when she closed her eyes at night, telling her the stories he told her as a little girl. Stories of the old country that his own parents had told him when he was young. Her favorites were his tales of the little people, and how he always promised her that some day she might find one of their treasures and live happily ever after.
"This land is my treasure, Papa," she said to the empty air. "And I'll never let anyone take it from me."
The sudden sound of a horse at the front of the house caused Ashley to jump to her feet, interrupting her prayer and vow. It seemed these days, horses usually meant Yankees.
Having learned her lesson in a way that would never again be far from her mind, Ashley now made sure her daddy's rifle was never far from her side. Making sure it was set and loaded, she rushed back to the house around to the front entrance.
To her relief, there was but a single horseman. More so, the coat he wore was far from Union Blue. Her face filled with joy as she saw the face of the rider.
"John!" she cried out as she lowered the gun and ran around to the side of the horse.
She stopped cold for a second when she saw the ripped leg of his trousers and the dark red bloodstains on the dirty material.
"Oh God," she cried even louder, "You're hurt!"
"They just nicked me a little," he said as tried to dismount, only to practically fall into her arms.
Thankfully, John was small enough for Ashley to carry him into the house. She doubted that he would've been able to make it on his own. Carefully, she led him to the small bed she'd made up in the living room.
"Let me look at this," she said as she grabbed the bowl of water she had poured earlier and dipped a clean rag into it.
John's assessment that they had only nicked him turned out to be true. The wound in his lower calf had been bloody for a while, but was already clotted. Carefully she washed it and then wrapped his leg in a bandage she had boiled clean.
"What happened?" she asked, now that she was sure he wasn't badly injured.
"It's over," he replied, a touch of deep sadness in his voice.
"What's over?" Ashley asked, clearing away the bowl and washrag.
"Lee surrendered to Grant two days ago," John explained, "At some place up by the Appomattox River."
"Two days ago," Ashley said, wondering if Sergeant Rourke and Private Butler had known that. Not that it really mattered. "But how did you get shot?"
"After I got rid of the bodies, I started back along the Wilshire Road," John began, sitting up on the edge of the bed. "I came across some more dead Federals. From the look of it, they'd only been dead an hour or so. Old habits die hard, I guess, so I checked them for anything I could use."
Ashley recalled him doing the same with the two soldiers the day before. He had left whatever food he had found in their sacks with her.
"I found this bag on a Yankee Major," he said, indicating the worn pouch he'd strapped to his body, "and I guess I was so tired by that point that I didn't hear the patrol that came up behind me."
He handed the bag to Ashley who was surprised to find it very heavy. More concerned about her new friend that some war booty, she put in down alongside the bed.
"Two of the dead men were in civilian clothes. I don't know if they were Southerners or Yankee scouts. One of their horses was still there, and it didn't carry no Yankee Army brand. I jumped on the horse and took off, just as that bunch of blue bellies came up on me. I guess they figured I was the one that bushwhacked the dead Major."
"Thank God you managed to get away," Ashley said in relief as she wiped some of the grime from his face.
"Hasn't been a Yankee born that could catch me once I'm on a horse," John said with a touch of pride. "Course they can get lucky once in a while, that's how I got this," he added, indicating his injured leg.
"Well you're safe now," she said as she stood up, a memory of her beloved Stephen boasting of his horsemanship in much the same way. Until the day a lucky shot had ended all of their dreams. "You just rest now."
"But I wanted to tell you ab..."
"I said you just rest," Ashley repeated in the tone she used to use when she cared for her younger brothers. "There'll be plenty of time to talk later."
On top of the long hike after he'd disposed of the bodies, John had been in the saddle for almost a day, avoiding the Federal Patrols that seemed to be everywhere. Once he finally gave in to the wisdom of her forceful suggestion, he slept for the rest of the day.
The sun had already set by the time John finally stirred. Ashley had made a stew out of vegetables from her garden and a squirrel she had managed to catch. Compared to the hard biscuits he had been living on, John considered the simple fare a feast.
After dinner, Ashley had carried enough water from the well to at least half fill the tin bathtub that her husband had sent all the way to Baltimore for as a anniversary gift. She started to help John undress, but he quickly objected to the idea.
"Don't be stubborn," she admonished him. "I was a married woman and I helped raise two younger brothers. I've seem what a man looks like under all that filth. Let me help you, you're hurt."
"I'll manage," John insisted.
"Men!" Ashley said as she threw up her hands in resignation and left him to bathe alone. "Just make sure you don't get that bandage wet," she added.
While John bathed, Ashley had found some of Robert's old clothes. They might not be a perfect fit, but at least they were clean. Averting her eyes in deference to John's silly need for modesty, the twenty-three-year-old opened the door to the small washroom halfway and pushed the pants and shirt inside.
John emerged a while later, looking cleaner than he'd probably been in weeks. With his blond hair cropped short and his face lacking even the semblance of facial hair, he now looked even more like the teenage boy Ashley had first taken him to be. Robert's clothes were a little loose on him, so he'd use a small piece of rope as a make shift belt.
Despite his earlier rest, he was still a little tired. Ashley insisted he take the bed, and in this case he was too drained to argue. They talked for a while and learned a little more about each other. Ashley told him of her life and how she had lost her husband and two brothers in the war. When she mentioned her younger brothers who were serving out west, John said he shared her hope that they might have survived. Inwardly, having seen so many of his comrades' fall as much to disease and infection as enemy action, he thought it was more than likely that they hadn't.
John in turn described how he had grown up on a farm that was smaller, but otherwise not too different than this one. His parents had been much poorer than Ashley's, but still they managed to have a fair life. He'd joined up with the militia as had all the other young men in the district. It had made his father so proud when he had first come home in his uniform. A few months later, one of the neighbors had written him to say that both his parents had died of the fever.
When Ashley inquired about any brothers or sisters, since it was unusual for a farm family to have only a single child, John reluctantly explained that his mother had such a hard time with his birth that the local doctor said that another pregnancy might kill her. Something in that answer seemed to increase the fatigue that he felt and he faded off to sleep soon after.
Sitting in her Grandmother's rocker as she watched John sleep, Ashley began to find herself filled with long buried stirrings. Aside from the incident with the Yankee soldiers, which she considered an act of violence rather than passion, it had been almost two lonely years since she'd been with a man. There had been nights she had given in to temptation and pleasured herself, but it really didn't compare with having a warm body pressed against hers.
John was more boy than man in many ways, she said to herself, yet he was already older than she had been on her wedding night. Additionally, if you factored in the life he'd led, and what he had seem in his short years, then he was almost older than Stephen had been the night they'd first made love.
"Listen to me," the twenty-three-year-old chided herself in response to her thoughts. "Next I'll be telling myself he deserves a reward for saving my life."
Deep down however, Ashley knew that whatever the reason she finally gave herself, she didn't have the strength of will to continue her long abstinence. There had been too many empty nights to let a chance for a brief happiness to pass.
Ashley rose from the chair and undid the ribbon that held back her hair. She shook her hair loose and then used her hands to straighten it as best she could. Reaching behind her back, she undid the few buttons that held her dress together. She laid her dress on the chair, following it a minute later with her undergarments.
The dim light of the remnants of the fire illuminated her nude form as she ran her hands up and down her body, stopping as she cupped her breasts. Her mounds, like the rest of her body, were no longer as firm as they once were. Too many days of hard work and missed meals had taken their toll. Still, she was sure John wouldn't be disappointed.
Lifting the blanket she had draped over him, Ashley climbed into the bed and pressed her body next to his. She wrapped her arms around him, drawing him to her. For the moment, she was content just to share his warmth. With a feeling of comfort she had so missed, Ashley closed her eyes and drifted to sleep.
Ashley awoke hours later, the light of the spring Moon filling the room. John's presence next to her felt so welcome that she was now sure she was doing the right thing. Softly she kissed his cheek, then ran her hand across his body. Silently, she undid his rope belt to give his borrowed pants enough slack to allow her hand to slide inside.
Her fingers reached between his legs as a look of confusion filled her face.
"I'm afraid you're not going to find what you're looking for," a now awake John said.
"What happened to you?" a confused Ashley asked as she quickly withdrew her hand.
"Nothing at all," John said. "I'm as normal as you."
"As normal as..." Ashley started to say when the obvious suddenly occurred to her.
"That's right," John confirmed the look of understanding on Ashley's face.
"But you were in the Army."
"My father was devastated that his only child was born a girl," John explained as if it was the most natural thing in the world. "So to please him, my Mama raised me to be his son."
"And all your time in the Army," a curious Ashley asked, "no one ever suspected?"
"I just kept away from the doctors, what little good some of them were," John went on. "Thankfully I was never hurt bad enough to have anyone examine me too closely."
"None of the other soldiers ever..."
"I don't exactly have the same sort of body as you do," said the young woman. "The kind that draws men like honey does flies."
Ashley recalled that the uniform John had worn was almost as baggy as the clothes she had lent her. Whatever small bosom it concealed, it was practically unnoticeable.
"With all those men around, you never felt..." The older woman paused for the right word to describe what she herself had felt at that age "desires."
"Being raised as a boy, I never did feel toward other boys what girls are supposed to feel," John concluded. "And the only man who ever tried to put his hands on me was an old Sergeant a year or so back. And that was because he thought I was a boy. I never gave him the chance to find out otherwise."
Remembering what she, Ashley had to force herself to think of John as that, had done to the two Union soldiers, she shuddered to think what had happened to the sodomite inclined Sergeant.
"It's all so unbelievable," Ashley said.
"I guess that sort of changes your plans for tonight," John apologized. "I'm sorry."
"It doesn't have to," Ashley said, a mischievous gleam in her eye.
Years ago, when Ashley had been at Miss Thompson's School for Young Ladies, she had learned a marvelous secret. Fourteen and filled with the urges that came with emerging womanhood, she had been taught by one of the older girls a lesson in how to deal with those newly discovered drives. It was a lesson that definitely hadn't been part of the school's curriculum.
The girl, whose name she remembered was Leslie Ann Barnes, was two years older than Ashley. One cold winter night, long after Miss Thompson and the rest of the staff had retired for the evening, Leslie had slipped into Ashley's room. With a gentle hand, the older girl had taught her how to satisfy those urges in a way that would allow her to go to her future wedding bed still a virgin.
In the months that had followed, Ashley spent many quiet nights exploring both her body and that of Leslie, learning how to both receive and give pleasure. In time, those sessions grew to also include some of the other girls that Leslie had taught. Only her summons home the following summer to help care for her younger brothers after her Mother's passing ended the sharing aspect of her special education. At least until she married Stephen.
"Do you trust me?" Ashley asked John.
"Yes," she answered.
"Then just relax and let me show you something I learned when I was about your age. Something wondrous."
Ashley unbuttoned her brother's borrowed shirt, discovering a thick bandage wrapped around John's chest, an important part of her male identity. Carefully she undid the covering until John's small breasts were exposed to the warm night air.
Ashley thought they were so much nicer than her own, firm and compact with bright pink nipples at the center. She ran her fingers over both nipples, feeling them grow hard at her touch.
"Mmmm," John moaned at the first touch of a hand not her own. "That feels nice."
"I know things that feel even nicer," Ashley smiled, remembering the nights spent with Leslie.
An expression long absent appeared on John's face and an emotion thought dead filled her breast. An emotion called Joy.
Ashley kissed the tips of John's small breasts, tickling them with her tongue. All the while her fingers massaged the soft flesh around them, sending a tingling sensation across the younger girl's chest.