Ichabod approached the camp just behind Lieutenant Clark. Row after row of white tents filled the trampled field. Cook fires were evenly spaced between the rows, each one circle by men clutching tin plates. The eyes of the men silently followed the ragged line of recruits as they passed through the tents.
The recruits stood out from the established troops like a fresh young colt beside an ancient plow horse. One man, whose tangled hair nearly hid his eyes, drew Ichabod’s gaze. But those eyes were hard and relentless in their study. The man’s face was heavily lined and a fresh scar drew a red line from brow to chin. As Ichabod watched, the man’s right eye closed in a wink. Ichabod flinched and hurried to catch up with the Lieutenant.
The new arrivals were dispersed to their new squads until only Ichabod was left. His toe nudged the sack of belongings at his feet. Maybe he would be sent home after all.
“What about me, sir?” Ichabod asked the man beside him. After coming so far, he was afraid there was no place for him. After walking through the solemn camp, a small doubt had crept in.
“I have not forgotten you, Ichabod. I have something for you.” Lieutenant Clark ducked into a nearby tent. Almost immediately, he returned holding a drum. It showed signs of having been brightly painted at one time, but now the paint was scratched and peeling, the skin discolored. “Do you know what this is?”
“Yes, sir, it is a drum.”
“Do you know what it is used for.” The Lieutenant stared at Ichabod with unreadable eyes.
“To keep time, sir.”
“Yes, but in the army it becomes more. It is a tool for communication. With it, I can pass along orders and encouragement to men out of range of my voice.”
“My drummer has become incapacitated and I need someone to take his place. Are you willing to do so?”
“Yes, sir. But I do not know how to play.”
“Percy will show you.” Lieutenant Clark ducked into the tent once more. Ichabod followed him.
A boy, not much older than he, sat on the narrow cot with a crude crutch beside him. The boy’s right leg ended just below the knee.
“Percy, this is Ichabod, he will need you to show him the rhythms. Now I will leave you two boys to get started.” Lieutenant Clark left leaving stark silence behind him.
“To learn to play the drum, I guess.”
“No, I mean why are you here in camp instead of at home with your family?”
“I came to fight the British.” Ichabod paused, Percy’s expression seemed to require more. “The redcoats have killed my father and have taxed my family into poverty. We are little more than slaves on our own land working ourselves to death to make some foreign king rich.”
“What if you end up like me, or like your pa, will you feel the same?”
Ichabod looked at the other boy. Even though he was only a year or two older, his eyes seemed ancient and full of pain. Was freedom worth this?
“Yes, even if I die, if it makes life better for those I love, freedom is worth it.”