The weather was still pleasant although the falling leaves announced the changing of the seasons. It was mid-morning on Saturday, the day had begun a bit cool but the sun had warmed the air nicely. It was a day just made for fishing with your best friend.
Two young boys sat disconsolately in a small clearing behind large boulders, peering through a crevice in the rocks. Down the slope, some distance from them, was a small detachment of soldiers, leisurely filling canteens and watering their horses while occupying the best fishing spot on the creek.
The dark-haired boy sat on a rock, his chin propped on his fist, thoughtfully forlorn. He had planned it all out, rise early, finish their chores, fish for a few hours, maybe do a little exploring and get home well before supper. They hadn’t been allowed to spend the night together since school had begun; they were hoping, with good behavior, their parents would consent tonight. So much for good planning, it would have worked if not for those bothersome soldiers.
The smaller, fair-haired boy kept watch through the crevice, finally sighing and turning resentful blue eyes to his cousin. “Han, they don’t seem like they’re leavin’ anytime soon, why can’t we just go on down an’ start fishin’? It’s our creek an’ there ain’t no law against it,” Jed lamented, thoroughly irritated.
Han turned dark eyes toward Jed, contemplating his proposal for a moment, then grimaced and shook his head. Most of his ten years he’d been told that he should help his younger cousin make sensible decisions. “For th’ reason we already said,” he told him. “Our Pa’s was talkin’ to us man to man ‘bout th’ women folk. Our Ma’s are gettin’ awful worried with all th’ fightin’ goin’ on. We promised we’d keep away if we saw soldiers,” Han reminded, begrudgingly.
Eight-year-old Jed was growing frustrated, he didn’t like waiting around, he lowered his eyes thinking hard, then looked up excitedly. “Then let’s go down to th’ water further up-creek. That’d be keepin’ away,” he suggested hopefully.
Han shook his head, “They could still see us,” he shrugged.
“We didn’t promise not to let ‘em see us, did we?” Jed protested.
A dimple appeared along with a half-smile, “Yeah, pretty much; we promised to stay outa’ sight, ‘member?” Han said sympathetically.
Frowning in frustration, Jed crossed his arms, “It ain’t fair!” he grumbled, kicking at a stone.
Han nodded, “Take it easy, maybe they’ll leave soon,” he placated.
“We even got up early to finish our chores---,” Jed mourned. “Han, you gotta’ think o’ somthin’,” he urged, his voice rising with childish frustration.
Dark eyes narrowed, “Don’t start yellin’ at me, it ain’t my fault,” Han said, frowning.
“I never said it was -- but it was your idea! We always do things your way cause you’re th’ oldest! An’ all it got us was sittin’ in th’ dirt swattin’ bugs!” Jed complained loudly, his quick temper igniting, his cheeks flushing.
Han stood up defensively, all traces of maturity vanished in a wave of belligerence. He flung an arm toward the creek. “How was I ‘spose to know they were here?” he shouted.
Jed stood up to face his cousin, “I don’t know! But I wanta’ go fishin’ an’ I’m tired o’ sittin’ here!” he hollered back.
Han clenched his fists, “So, what d’you expect me to do?” he raged.
“Think o’ somethin’, you’re th’ oldest!” Jed yelled, blue eyes flashing angrily.
“Thought you didn’t like doin’ things my way, an’ I’m tired o’ bein’ th’ oldest!” Han sneered, frustrated.
He caught his breath when a man in a uniform stepped from behind the large boulder, a gun in his hand.
His heart pounding, Han moved toward Jed and turned to face the man, placing his cousin behind him.
The man was tall and muscular with dark hair, a mustache and long side burns. He glanced around cautiously then scowled at Han, “Why’re you two hidin’, you spyin’ on us?” he asked, gruffly.
Nervously, Han stared at him as another man in uniform slipped around the boulder at the other side of the clearing. He had the same dark hair but was younger and clean shaven. He grinned at the older man, “Just kids Captain, not hardly old enough to give us any trouble,” he noted.
The Captain glanced at the younger man, “Maybe,” he said. He turned back to Han, “I think you better answer me boy?” he said.
Han could feel Jed inching to the side, trying to see around him, “Keep still,” he hissed, focusing on the gun the man was holding. “No sir, we was waitin’,” Han replied, softly.
The man scanned the area, then moved closer to Han, “Waitin’ for who?” he asked, suspiciously.
Han licked his lips, shaking his head slightly, “Just waitin’ ‘til your soldiers leave,” he replied, honestly.
“What was all th’ hollerin’ about? Are you supposed to let somebody know when we leave?” the Captain demanded, staring hard at Han.
Confused and uncertain, Han shrugged, looking puzzled. He tried to pull away when the Captain grasped his arm and jerked him forward. “Answer me,” the man growled.
Growing panicky, Han was struggling to free his arm when his cousin darted past them, armed with several rocks; the Captain quickly released Han, needing both hands to fend off the stones flying at his head.
“Jed! Stop!” Han groaned, trying to get past the man to reach his cousin.
“You leave him be! It’s our fishin’ spot an’ you ain’t got no right to hog it!” Jed raged. His face was red with fury as he turned to gather more ammunition.
The Captain leaned over Jed, caught him around the waist and lifted him from the ground, “Hold on now----, your fishin’ spot---- ow-- stop kickin’— hey!” he protested. He lost his grip on the gun as Han leaped on his back and wrapped his arms around his neck.
“Let go o’ him! He’s just a kid---he thought you was hurtin’ me ––,” Han pleaded frantically, trying to choke the man.
Grinning, the younger man approached, “You need some help big brother?” he teased.
Scowling, the Captain handed over the squirming curly haired boy, “It ain’t funny, hold on to him,” he said. He loosened the arms around his neck and Han fell with a thud. Picking up his gun he holstered it and pulled Han to his feet.
“Now both o’ you hold still,” he ordered, straightening his shirt and tucking it in.
Breathing heavily, both boys looked at each other, “You aw right?” Han asked.
“Yeah, you okay?” Jed responded.
Han nodded curtly, searching for a way to free Jed.
“What’re you gonna’ do with ‘em?” the young soldier asked, still amused.
“I wish I could enlist ‘em,” the older man said jestingly, rubbing his forehead where a rock had connected.
Han drew a deep breath, “Look mister, we just wanta’ go fishin’, why would we wanta’ tell somebody when you leave? We got sorta’ mad,……” the Captain raised a hand halting him mid-sentence.
“Why didn’t you say that to begin with?” he asked.
“I did, you asked why we was waitin’ an’ I said for th’ soldiers to leave,” Han related.
The Captain sighed rubbing his forehead again, “How come you didn’t just go fishin’ further upstream?”
Still in the grasp of the younger man, Jed jerked one arm free, “On account o’ we couldn’t! We promised our Pa’s we wouldn’t let any soldiers see us an’ you wouldn’t leave,” Jed told him, belligerently.
“Some reason for your Pa to be worried about soldiers?” the Captain asked, suspiciously.
Han responded before his irate cousin could say more, “It ain’t our Pa’s that’s worried, it’s our Ma’s,” he said, “but our Pa’s told us that womenfolk are special and menfolk gotta’ treat ‘em special. They said ladies can’t help worryin’, ‘specially if they’re a Ma,” Han explained.
“An’ it’s up to th’ menfolk to help ‘em not worry, even if there ain’t no reason to worry, so we was waitin’ like we promised – how much longer you figure on stayin’?” Jed frowned.
The Captain chuckled, “You mind givin’ us another five or ten minutes?” he asked. “Sorry if I scared you, we’ve heard that some local folks were helpin’ out some raiders near here, we’re a little more antsy than normal. Your Pa’s should be proud of you for keepin’ your word an’ helpin’ look after your Ma’s. An’ you boys should be proud of yourselves for lookin’ out for each other. Keep your eyes open, there may be raiders in th’ area---, an’ try keepin’ your voices down some. Good luck, hope you catch a lot. C’mon Tom, let’s get th’ men mounted,” he said and led the way around the boulders.
The boys sat down to wait some more, both feeling a little guilty, glancing at each other from time to time.
“Han, guess we broke our word to our Pa’s, huh?” Jed asked, quietly.
For a moment the dark eyes were troubled, then brightened, “Well, I figure we didn’t break our promise, maybe just bent it some. We kept outa’ sight, we just didn’t keep outa’ hearin’; I shouldn’a got mad an’ started yellin’ at you, I’m sorry,” Han said quietly.
Jed looked up quickly, his blue eyes worried, “Was my fault Han, I yelled at you first an’ I didn’t mean it; I like doin’ th’ things you think up,” he said earnestly. “Reckon it does get tiresome always bein’ th’ oldest but I don’ know ‘bout all th’ stuff you do. I don’t know how to be th’ oldest,” he apologized.
Deep dimples appeared as Han’s smile widened, “I don’t figure we can change that, ‘sides I don’t mind so much bein’ th’ oldest. It ain’t hard when a fella’s got a great partner like you. Thanks for gettin’ him to let loose o’ me, Jed,” he said gratefully.
Jed looked away, “Han, when he grabbed your arm I got scared, you figure that makes me a coward?” He looked back at his best friend with imploring blue eyes.
“Course not, anybody that jumps in to save his partner ain’t no coward. I got a little scared too when he picked you up. It was just ‘cause we didn’t know what he aimed to do, not ‘cause we was afraid,” Han assured him.
Blue eyes brightened happily, “You sure wasn’t afraid, you jumped him an’ made him drop his gun. Thanks for fightin’ to get me loose, I’m awful glad you’re my partner. You reckon our Pa’s will be mad at us?” he asked.
“Don’t see why, we did what we promised, we just forgot to stay quiet, we’ll do better next time. We did our part to keep th’ womenfolk from worryin’ by stayin’ outa’ sight. Only reason them two soldiers saw us is they came lookin’. I reckon our Pa’s would be proud of us. Thing is, we can’t be tellin’ how good we did or they might think we was braggin’. An’ if our Ma’s heard they’d likely be worryin’ over nothin’ again. So, I figure we best just go on doin’ our part an’ keep it to ourselves,” Han reasoned.
Jed smiled in appreciation, “That’s a great plan, even if I was th’ oldest I don’t think I could come up with good plans like you, Han,” he said.
Han grinned, “Sure you could, Jed, it’s just that you got me to think things out so you don’t have to,” Han encouraged. “I’m hearin’ horses, are they leavin’?” he asked.
Jed peered through the crevice, “Sure are, they’re ridin’ upstream,” he said excitedly.
Han stood and grasped their fishing poles, “Grab th’ can o’ worms and let’s go fishin’,” he grinned.
“I’ll be right behind you, partner,” Jed said happily.
So, they set off down the slope with Han watching the path ahead and Jed watching the trail behind, neither realized it was a pattern that would last a lifetime.