Chapter One

The Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
Just past Midnight March 21, 1782,

Sounding like distant thunder, the clap of hooves on river rock rumbled through the valley. The echoes recede as a burst of wind rushes through the high tree tops. Three men on horses emerge from a heavily wooded hillside path on to a gravel road, and stop. The distinctive blue and white uniforms of the Continental Army stand out in the muted moonlight, Golden epaulets on the men’s shoulders indicate they are of high rank.
The horses are agitated and stomp their hooves on the roadway breaks. Warm air from their heavy breaths causes vapor to rise in the cold air. The tallest of the three men dismounts, reaches his arms over his head, and groans.
“It’s been a long ride, and my back and arse hurt.” He lets out a loud grunt, bends forward and covertly sneaks a peek up the hill. Stroking his horse along her neck, he moves up and pats her nose, “Easy old girl.” He turns back toward the top of the hill and whispers to the two men still on horseback, “I believe we are in the right place. Two of our soldiers hidden in the trees at the top of the hill are pointing muskets at us.”
A hundred feet away, hidden behind a big oak tree, an old woman covered head to toe in a black cape cautiously looks up toward the sentries at the top of the hill and down at the men on the road. She prays that if there is a confrontation it will end fast and allow her to complete her mission.
A large clump of icy snow falls from a tree nearby and hits the ground. The sudden noise resounds through the open space on the road causing one of the men on horseback to look up toward her. Fearing discovery, she ducks her head back behind the tree and exhales her held breath. Unable to move, she casts her eyes toward the sky and prays she hasn’t been discovered.
“What was that?” The tall officer re-mounts his horse and looks out to where his fellow officers are pointing.
“Nothing to worry about…It’s just melting ice falling from the trees.”
The men on horseback with their hands in plain sight advance up the hill toward the soldiers.
One of the soldier’s stands up, steps forward, lowers his musket, raises his right hand, and jerks his palm forward.
“HALT….give the proper words, or we’ll drop ye where ya stand.”
The three officers raise their hands for the soldiers to see they are un-armed.
The tallest officer in a melodic song like tone voices the words, “Ma..ry Ba..ll.”
The other sentry, hearing the name of General George Washington’s mother presented correctly, lowers his muskets, and waives the officers forward. The men dismount, hand their horses reins to the sentries, and quickly move to the fire’s warmth. The sentries tie the horses to a fence post that is several feet away from a rusted iron gate that fronts an old church.
A gusty wind enlivens tree shadows projected from the fire’s light on to the wall of the church. The large cornerstone at the church’s entrance is carved with the date, 1671 A.D. The church’s steeple stones have dislodged over the years leaving a gaping hole that exposes the bell tower. Bordering one side of the church, a small graveyard filled with white stone markers crowds the edges of a weathered gray picket fence.
A few words are whispered to the sentries before the officers push through the gate and enter the church.
Outside, the stillness of the night is upset by flurries picking up ice crystals off the frozen ground and sending them like a swarm of hornets at the two sentries who have returned to warm themselves by the small fire. Now wrapped in tattered blankets and shivering, the shorter guard looks toward the church before reaching into the tunic of his uniform. He produces a silver flask, takes a long swig, and hands the container to his partner.
“Heah, this home-made whiskey will warm your innards.”
A loud cracking noise from the forest breaks the sudden stillness.
“What was that?” The taller guard points his musket into the darkness and whispers, “…crunchin through the snow.”
“Sounded like a deer, not a Tory.” The other guard scoffs.
“But, I thought I heard something…it came from over there,” He pushes his musket forward, points it in the direction he means, and strains his eyes to see through the darkness. After a moment listening and hearing nothing but wind rustling the branches on a nearby stand of trees, he lowers his musket and moves back to the fire. “You probably were right…it must’ve been a deer.”
The old woman clings to the tree saying a silent prayer with her eyes toward the heavens. She asks God to make the soldiers depart so she can complete the final act of her life. Her husband, a doctor, and her son, a lieutenant in the Continental army, were killed in the war’s first battle. Beneath her cape she hardly feels her mangled arthritic hands wrapped around the cold metal strongbox held tightly to her bosom. She must bury the strongbox at the place she described in a letter posted yesterday to her last blood relative. The box contains her diary, several coins, a pistol, and a map she had gouged into a soft piece of leather many years ago. She had very carefully wrapped the diary and map in several layers of heavily oiled cloth and leather to help preserve them. Someday, she prays a relative will read the letter, dig up the box and discover the way to a treasure she and her partner Mary looted from a Spanish ship and buried on an obscure island in the Caribbean.
Fearful of giving way her position, she carefully looks out toward the church, Please dear God let my tribulations end so I may die in peace. She prays the strategy meeting inside the church concludes soon or the Reaper will overtake her, and she will join her loved ones before completing her mission.
A gust of wind whooshes through the treetops. Snow falls from the branches and settles to the ground around her. Her shallow breaths burn her lungs. She reluctantly sets the strong box on the ground to choke back a cough with one hand over her mouth to muffle the sound. Feeling in control, she takes a small bottle from a pocket in her cape and drinks. She knows if it were not for the alcohol bolstering her resolve to insure her legacy, she’d gladly welcome the end of her mortal existence.
Minutes feel like hours, and in frustration she clasps her hands together once more praying for God to allow the strategists inside the church inspiration to complete their plan. And, for her life not to end before she can carry out her purpose
She recognizes the creak from the church’s great oak door as it opens, and hears a thud a moment later when the door closes. Hushed voices order the sentries to attention. Moments later the groan of the church gate opening brings a smile to her dry cracked lips.
She dares to peek out from behind the tree, and watches as the eerie green glow of lanterns fades away into the grey ground mist covering the road. She cranes her neck back to look upward through the darkness, and thanks God for hearing her prayers. Feeling elated from the alcohol inhibiting her pain, she bends down, picks up the strongbox, clutches it to her chest and continues her journey. She stumbles as she passes the sentry fire, and reaches out with one hand to push the cemetery gate open. Inside the graveyard, she stops for a moment to catch her breath.
She looks up. The sky is clearing. She sees a full moon rising through wispy clouds. The muted light makes the ice particles in the snow on the top of the gravestones shimmer like millions of tiny diamonds. She reaches into her cape, takes out a flask, lifts it to her lips, sucks hard to drain the remaining fluid, and licks at the open cap making sure not leave a drop of her liquid strength. She drops the empty container at her feet. When she feels the warmth moving toward her belly she sucks in a deep breath and takes several steps forward. She stumbles through a familiar row of stones and falls to her knees at the headstone of her dear father.
She takes a trowel from a pocket inside her cloak and begins to dig. She dares not stop, afraid if she does, she will not fulfill her legacy. Pain shoots up her arms with every thrust of the tool into the frozen earth. Finally, she has managed to gouge out a hole large enough to set the box at least a foot below the surface. She rests for a moment to catch her breath before filling the cavity with the excavated dirt, and covering it with clumps of frozen grass. She pushes snow over the top, and flattens it until she is satisfied any trace of her digging has disappeared.
Three hours have passed and she is barely able to move from the pain wracking her body. But, she must. She struggles to her feet and turns to look at where she’d dug and walks from her father’s resting place to find the two other graves she knows so well. She is struck with emotion, collapses across her husband’s grave, and extends one hand out to gently touch the adjacent grave of her fallen son. A peaceful smile crosses her face. It’s almost time. She closes her eyes to wait for the inevitable warm light that will lead her to the after-life.
Chattering birds fly by carrying twigs in their beaks to build their nests on high branches in the large oak trees surrounding the graveyard. Day is breaking through a mass of purple clouds resting on the horizon. Her eyelids flutter open as the heat from a ray of sunlight touches her face.
Her mind wanders to her beginnings as she absentmindedly strokes the grave of her husband. She sheds a tear of sorrow for her father, William Cormac. He was a respected lawyer in County Cork, Ireland until he was shunned after having an affair with a maid in his employ. When the maid gave birth to a baby girl he was disgraced and his wife divorced him. He left Ireland with the baby on a ship bound for America. I be that baby.
Daydreams flood remembrances of her happy years growing up in the Carolinas and the words she wrote in the diary.
The years pass. I am a young woman. I practice until I am better at fighting with a sword, and pistol than most men. I kills a man in a duel and becomes feared by everyone in South Carolina where I grow up. I fancy this John Bonney, a drifter who says he be a pirate. I disobey my father and take Bonney for my husband. My father refuses to give me money, so I leave with Bonney for the Bahamas.
I find out my father was right. John Bonny is nothing but a petty pirate who has switched sides and now makes a living informing the governor on his former mates.
Anne, gasped and wheezed. Sensing her end was at hand, she thanked God once more for allowing her to complete her mission and prayed for forgiveness for her past indiscretions.
“It’s the first day…spring,” she mutters.
It’s the last time in her mortal life she will draw a breath.
“Winter’s end…new life begins,” she sighs, “I’m coming Mary.”