Craven watched with horror as the Half King and five other savages ran through the centre of the camp, swinging their tomahawks at the unarmed Crapauds who had just surrendered. A tall Mingo kicked a wounded militiaman to the ground, and then the terrified Frenchman screamed as the Indian cleaved his skull with a scalping knife. The Half King reached Jumonville, who was now lying where he’d been shot. The Mingo crouched down, yanked the French officer’s head back by the hair, and sank his tomahawk into Jumonville’s skull, shouting, ‘Tu n'es pas encore mort, mon père!’
Craven stood rooted to the spot in shock. Only moments before, he’d killed men, but in defence of his friend. Killing defenceless, wounded men was murder. Nearby, a broad-shouldered, gnarled-looking Virginian corporal doubled over and vomited. Craven turned to the officers. The blood had drained from Lieutenant West’s face, and Washington gaped at the scene of butchery. Craven shook off his own stupor and said to the lieutenant colonel, ‘Sir, you must do something.’
Washington looked confused. ‘Something?’ Then he snapped out of his trance, turned to West and wheezed, ‘Come with me.’
Craven and Finbow hadn’t been invited, but followed anyway when Washington and West stormed over to the Half King. ‘Stop this!’ demanded Washington. ‘Have you no honour?’
The Mingo chief glanced up in surprise. ‘Honour?’
Washington loomed over him. ‘These men have surrendered, and I demand you treat them with the customary respect afforded to prisoners of war.’
The Half King stood and sneered. ‘What is this honour you speak of?’ He shook his blood-drenched tomahawk to emphasise his words. ‘If you lack courage, run back to Virginia. There you can hide behind your women’s skirts.’
‘The prisoners are under my protection. I command here, and you shall observe the rules of war.’
The Mingo clenched his fists and glared at the lieutenant colonel. ‘You will regret this. Among my people, I am a king!’ He spun and stormed out of the clearing, his braves following like wolves trailing their pack leader.
Craven watched the Mingo melt into the trees as if they were part of the woodland. That was just it. They belonged here, just as the lads of the Virginia Militia did not. The savages might be content sleeping under the trees, wearing loincloths, eating roast squirrels and berries from the wilderness, but he was happier inside a warm tavern with a tankard of ale in his hand and a woman of questionable morals on his knee. How could folk with such different needs and ideas get along together?
Washington turned to West. ‘Gather the French officers and take their swords.’
‘Yes, sir,’ said the lieutenant. ‘Shall I offer parole?’
Washington shook his head. ‘It is my opinion these men are spies. Under the circumstances, I cannot offer parole.’ He faced Craven. ‘Corporal, arrange a guard for the prisoners.’
Craven glanced behind to see who the lieutenant colonel was speaking to, then realized it was him. ‘I’m a private, sir, not a corporal.’
‘Have you never heard of a field commission, corporal? Well, get to it, man!’
Hiding his reluctance, Craven straightened and snapped a salute. ‘Yes, sir.’
Washington spun and marched off to where two lads of the Virginia Militia were helping Waggener to stand on wobbly legs. Congealing blood plastered one side of the lieutenant’s face, but it looked like he’d live, and Craven was happy for it.
Finbow clapped his back. ‘Congratulations, Corporal Craven.’
‘Bugger off, Mick!’ Craven shrugged off Finbow’s hand and frowned. ‘Never wanted to be a private, never mind a corporal.’
‘Never mind, lad. At least you’ll get paid more. Another four pennies a day, so it is.’
He’d forgotten that. As a corporal, he’d receive a whole shilling a day. If he lived long enough to collect any pay that is. Think what he could do with the extra four pence. He could get drunk as a magistrate on four pence a day. Thinking of which—
Organizing a guard could wait a few minutes while Craven took care of more pressing duties. Through a lingering haze of gun smoke, Craven took in a panoramic view of chaos around the campsite. The air stank of spent sulphur and burning meat. With a start, Craven realized that the meat smell came from a dead Crapaud who had fallen onto the fire. Blue-coated Virginia militiamen wandered everywhere, looting tents, ransacking baggage or rifling through prisoner’s pockets. Soon, he spotted what he sought—a likely lad climbing out of a nearby tent with suspicious bulges in his jacket pockets and, more to the point, pretty brown bottles wedged under his arms. ‘I just found dinner.’
The skinny frontiersman took off his shaved-skin cap, rubbed his bald patch and smiled. ‘Just when I was beginning to think you were a heathen.’