A Soldier in a Lawless Town (Preview)


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Chapter One

Death hung in the air, almost as thick as the fog itself. 

Staring down the sight of the barrel of his rifle, Percy Marsh tried to distinguish shapes through the haze that blanketed the world around him. Smoke mixed with the fog, distorting everything. 

The branches from fallen trees jutted into the air, the sticks appearing as wicked fingers that reached for him. Broken trunks and heavy logs were also about, some providing brief protection between him and the enemy, others appearing as monsters and chilling Percy to the bone. 

Percy had seen a lot of monstrous things during his months fighting in the war, and ever since he’d heard that the war was drawing to a close, things had been getting even worse. Desperation was driving other men to do absurd things, and Percy hated every moment he was part of it. 

Fallen soldiers dotted the field in front of him, and Percy had to force himself to look past their bodies. Though he had grown accustomed to seeing such an awful sight, he hadn’t grown desensitized to it by any means. 

As the smoke cleared a bit, it revealed the very thing Percy had been silently praying wasn’t there—the enemy line. 

He’d hoped the bloodshed that had already taken place that morning would be enough to cause the opposing army to fall back. After all, everyone knew the war was all but finished; it was only these last stands that prevented things from being done once and for all. 

A row of soldiers down on one knee remained steadfast in front of him and his comrades, along with a second row standing behind them. The formation was perfect, but Percy’s heart bled for those men just the same. 

They had to know they didn’t have a chance of victory, yet they were so desperate to avoid surrender, they were fighting themselves into the grave. 

“Steady there, Marsh,” Commander Beckett said in a low voice as he reached Percy. Both men were bent over, using a large trunk as cover between themselves and the Confederate soldiers who were just across the field. “I don’t like this.” 

“Sir?” Percy asked with a raised eyebrow. He’d been a little startled with the way Beckett had seemed to materialize out of the fog itself, but he could ignore his racing heart as he focused on what the commander had to say. 

It wasn’t uncommon for Beckett to walk the length of the lines. Percy didn’t understand why he did that when there were plenty of other commanders who remained in a single, safer location among their men. Beckett, however, liked to be right on the front lines with the rest of them. 

Percy had considered asking Beckett about it more than once, but somehow, Beckett always put Percy on edge, and Percy would hold his tongue more often than not in the other man’s presence. 

But Percy was also one of the best shooters in the entire group. He was the top of the Union Sharpshooters, and Beckett seemed incredibly impressed by that fact. He often sought Percy out when the two men were in the same camp, and as they were standing on the battlefield, Beckett seemed to have made a deliberate effort to find where Percy had set up. 

“They’re up to something,” Beckett said. “Look at them, standing the line and all but daring us to cross it. They’re planning something big. Mark my words.” 

Percy didn’t reply, not at first. Though most of the men in the group had only fought in the Civil War itself, Commander Beckett had been a fighter his entire life and had a lot more experience in such things. 

He was a hard man, made that way through his experiences in life. Percy wasn’t so sure he wanted to become that way himself, though he greatly admired Beckett and his ability to handle any situation that was thrown his way. He wished to have those kinds of nerves himself, though he didn’t really want to put himself through another war. 

“What are you talking about, sir?” 

“It’s too quiet. They’re lined up and waiting—but for what? Any one of them could pull his trigger and start this whole battle, but yet they stand there. Cold and still as statues.” 

Beckett stood with his hands clasped behind his back, and Percy followed his gaze across the field. 

He’d been hoping the opposing army would fall back and leave them, but after his commander pointed out they must be waiting for something, Percy felt another wave of unease wash over him. 

There was another line of men in front of him. Those men were also Union soldiers, and they were fighting for the same cause as Percy himself. They, too, had the same formation of men lined up down on one knee, with another line of men standing directly behind them. 

And Beckett was right. It would only take a single shot from either side for the entire line to erupt in gunfire—and while it was the moment Percy dreaded most of all, another part of him almost wished it would happen. 

Not because he wanted the bloodshed that would ensue, but because the dread of what might happen was worse in some ways than the actual fight. 

As Percy used his gun to scan the faces of the men opposite them, he realized he really didn’t want another gunfight. He’d lived through more than he cared to count anyway, and he was so close to being done with them forever, he wanted to avoid the ones he was facing. 

As far as he was concerned, the end of the war was nothing more than paperwork. The men who were in charge had to stop arguing semantics and sign whatever papers needed signing or send said papers wherever they needed to go and it would all be over. 

At least, that was how Percy understood things to be. 

This was the first war he’d ever fought in during his thirty years of life. And he was happy to let it be his last, too. 

He hadn’t imagined war to be anything great, but the reality of it was even worse than he had expected, and he was ready to be done with it once and for all. He didn’t care for all the fighting, and he had seen a side of humanity that made his blood run cold. He hated the way people treated others, and he hated that he himself had done some terrible things. 

“Do you hear that?” 

“Sir?” he asked, his mind coming back to the moment when Beckett spoke once again. 

“That’s the sound of nature itself holding its breath,” Beckett said, though Percy got the impression the man was only speaking out loud and wasn’t necessarily addressing Percy directly. “Something’s coming.” 

That time, the words were barely out of the commander’s mouth when a loud explosion echoed somewhere in the distance. It was followed by another, then a third. 

At first, Percy wasn’t entirely sure where the sound had come from. He recognized the sound as cannon fire, but there was something off about it. 

“Get down! Get down!” 



“Watch out!” 

Shouts erupted all around him, and Percy realized the large objects that were sailing toward him were cannon balls. 

It was rare to have to deal with cannons in such a thickly wooded area, but the Confederate soldiers were tenacious, and it didn’t seem there was really any place they wouldn’t bring cannons if they could. 

Percy knew men like himself were disliked for their incredibly accurate shooting abilities, especially from the distances he was able to take the shots. 

But his skill was different from those who brought in cannons. It was one thing to be able to shoot a single man from a great distance. His shot could end the life of someone high ranking, but that wasn’t the same thing as someone who could shoot a cannon ball at a group and kill several men at once. 

He knew he was just trying to make himself feel better about the things he’d done, but he still hated cannon fire. 

He leaped to the side, getting out of the way of the massive weighted ball. It sank into the ground some distance behind him with a sickening thud, but he didn’t have time to worry about that. 

As soon as the cannons started firing, the men around him started shooting back. 

Of course they did. 

It was what everyone had been trained to do. 

If they were being shot at, they were to shoot back until there was no one left to fire more shots. Prisoners weren’t something many of his generals had been interested in keeping, and as the war drew to a close, fewer and fewer men were being taken captive. 

It seemed better to be killed on the field than to risk anything more, though Percy knew those who were injured would be taken into camp to be treated. He didn’t know what would happen to any of the prisoners after their injuries were tended to, and he didn’t let himself think about it too much. 

He took aim with his weapon and pulled the trigger. Then, he did it again. And again. 

The motion was systematic, done without him walking himself through the steps. He could load his gun with his eyes closed, really, after all the times he’d done so during the war. 

Each shot he fired found its mark, but Percy didn’t have time to process one before he moved on to the next. Each second could be the difference between life or death for him or any of the men around him, and he had to do his part. 

Even with how much he had grown to loathe fighting and how much he hated being constantly surrounded with the presence of death, he still fought. It was all he knew how to do anymore, and he would keep doing it until he was no longer able to. 

Another cannon ball emerged, flying through the air and heading right for the trunk where he and a few other men had been positioned. The log would have sufficed to keep him relatively safe from the onslaught of bullets, but there was no way it would be able to withstand a ball of iron that big. 

“Look out!” Percy shouted to Beckett. 

Beckett had been so caught up with whatever he was doing with the two men directly in front of him, he didn’t hear the warning as Percy yelled. Percy didn’t have time to think. He could leap out of the way and save himself, but that wasn’t what he’d been trained to do. 

Beckett had to be protected, and Percy was willing to lay his own life down in the process. 

Instead of jumping in the opposite direction, he turned and leaped toward Beckett. He hit the commander square in the back, knocking him to the ground on top of the man he had been speaking to moments before. 

In the thick of the battle, both men knew Percy must be acting on instinct, so both moved with him as the log behind them was struck with the cannon ball. 

The wood splintered with a loud crack, sending shards of wood in all directions. The ball itself wasn’t slowed much with the collision, and it sank deeply into the soft ground that had been directly behind Percy moments before. 

If he hadn’t seen it coming or jumped when he did, he would have been hit with the ball itself while the commander and the rest of the men would have been hit with the flying log. 

Instead, the trunk flew over their heads and went sailing into the air before tumbling over itself on the uneven earth. 

Beckett shouted as Percy jumped onto him, but Percy didn’t have time to talk about it. His gun flew from his hand in the moment, but Percy wasn’t in a position to take shots from a distance any longer. 

The onslaught of the cannon balls continued, breaking down the barriers Percy and his comrades had so carefully erected just the day before. Whoever was firing the cannons seemed to be trying to clear the path to allow their foot soldiers to make a run toward the enemy. 

Percy’s side had the upper hand. Everyone knew the Union had won. But that didn’t stop the Confederates from still fighting with everything they had. It was as though the desperation they felt was driving them to the brink of insanity, and Percy was just trying to stay alive. 

He didn’t want to fall in the last few months of the war. The fighting should be over. It should be past them. He didn’t want to let those who refused to accept their loss be the reason he wasn’t going home at all, so he fought with all he had in him. 

He didn’t like the side of him the situation brought out, but it was what had kept him alive this long, and he relied on it to continue keeping him alive through the end of the war. He’d lost too much in the time he’d spent fighting to let himself fall in the end. 

And that was all there was to it. 

“Marsh! Where are you going? Are you insane?” Commander Beckett shouted after him as he leaped up from where he’d been lying. All three of the men had stayed down after Percy had saved the commander’s life, but Percy wasn’t going to lie there and let the rest of the men do the fighting. That wasn’t what he had signed up for. 

Even though he’d never wanted to hurt anyone, he wouldn’t stand and let the rest of the men around him do all the hard work. He would hold his own in the fight, right down to the last day he spent in the war. 

So, he scanned the field. 

His rifle had flown from his hand in the moment, but there was another soldier who had fallen not too far from the trio. That man’s gun was lying in the grass next to him, and though Percy would have to expose himself to being in the open for a moment, if he moved quickly, he would be able to get the gun and get out of there before someone managed to shoot him. 

At least, it was the risk he chose to take. 

“Are you crazy?” 

Beckett’s voice reached his ears, but the commander was one of the last things on Percy’s mind as he dashed for the weapon. All he was thinking about was the fact he had to grab that gun and get back to the tree line before someone shot him. 

Gunshots rang out all around him, and dirt was torn up all throughout the field where he ran. Some of the shots came dangerously close, but Percy kept his eyes on the ground just ahead of him. 

Finally, he saw the gun. 

As soon as he grabbed it, he whipped around, taking aim at the nearest target. He pulled the trigger, then did so again and again as he ran back toward the trees. He didn’t move as quickly, but with how good of a shot he was, he made it more difficult for the men who were trying to hit him. 

As soon as he took aim in their direction, they ducked back behind the trees. Percy could still pull the trigger and chance hitting one of them, but he didn’t want to waste the bullets. 

Not only that, but there was a part of him that halfway hoped those men would come to their senses and get out of there. They didn’t need more bloodshed or death. The fighting could stop. 

A bullet whizzed past his head and sank into the trunk of the tree directly in front of him, causing Percy to duck. He threw off his own balance, stumbling as he reached the tree line once more. 

The gun flew from his hand as he fell to his knees, and Percy stayed low. Yet he never stopped moving as he scrambled to grab the gun once again. He was on his feet in an instant, whipping himself around so his back was against the trunk of the tree that separated him from the enemy. 

He shoved a new round into the gun, ready to turn and fire once more. 

The entire front line of men who had faced them only moments before was now gone. But there were countless soldiers coming toward them from behind that line. 

The battle was far from over despite the fact his side obviously had the upper hand. Today was going to end in a lot more bloodshed, that much was clear. 

Beckett’s voice rang out from wherever he’d run off to after Percy saved his life. Percy couldn’t hear much of what the man was saying, but he knew what the message was all the same. Beckett would have them hold their position—and not just their position, but the line they had been holding—until there wasn’t a single soldier left on the opposing side. 

His comrades were there to stop the Confederates, no matter what. And that was exactly what they were doing. 

With only death and destruction left in their wake.

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Grab my new series, "Grit and Glory on the Frontier", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

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