Ethan is a Doughboy wounded in the battle for Belleau Wood. Davy is a reviled British conscientious objector serving in a military hospital. Two young men drawn to each other in the midst of the horrors of the Great War. Neither has a family, for the soldier's has all died and the CO's has cast him off in disgust for refusing to take up arms.
The bond of love that grows between Ethan and Davy takes them to Ethan's beautiful Appalachian hills, where they build a home and make a life. It is there they find that their love is strong enough to conquer everything, even time and death.
A new short story from our Candlelight literary romance line, from the author of the bestsellers SONG ON THE SAND, BURMA GIRL, MR. NEWBY'S REVENGE and THE LAWYER, THE GHOST AND THE CURSED CHAIR.
There are places in this world where magic and miracles meet, and when they do a legend is born. This is the story of one such legend, and how it came to be.
In the hills of Appalachia, in a cove that no living man will ever find, is a Mountain Ash unlike any other in the world. It is not one tree but two, twined around each other in the same way that vines twine around a host. It stands as it has for nearly three generations, untouched by wind, rain, frost, or fire, always bearing thick clusters of white flowers and blood red berries. Its flowers and fruit never fall. It will not grow. It will not wither.
The legend of this mountain ash is, as many legends are, a story of love and loss, sacrifice and redemption.
* * *
Ethan Drumm sighed with satisfaction and reached out to tousle Davy’s dark hair, flinching a little as he did so, from the pain that would never go away, pain that was courtesy of a German bayonet thrust into his shoulder in Belleau Wood, five years before. The luckiest bayonet wound of the war, he thought. If he hadn’t been wounded he would not have been evacuated by the Friends Ambulance Unit, would not have ended up in a British military hospital, and he would not have seen Davy.
His beautiful English Davy. Slim, gentle, with the courage of a lion, silently bearing the constant abuse heaped on him. “Slacker,” “coward,” and “conchie” were the kindest names Davy and the other C.O.s were called by the men they helped care for. Ethan fell head over heels in love for the first time in his life. He was surprised to learn that Davy was not religious, but was against killing as a matter of conscience. When the war was over he convinced Davy to join him in America, in the Appalachians where he had been born and raised. Davy’s family had turned their backs on him because he refused to fight, and Ethan’s family were all dead. They had only themselves to please, and so Davy joined him.
Davy first saw the mountains in the spring, when the dogwood was in bloom, and the redbuds seemed to throw a pale purple mist over the slopes. A little later came crimson azalea and pink laurel and rhododendrons splashing vast areas with dense color. There were more shades of green than he had ever imagined, even though he had grown up in a green country. Davy fell in love with Ethan’s hills.
They took a little house together in the valley village, and with the naivety of the young and unsophisticated, they were not cautious. At first it didn’t matter because no one seemed to notice or care. Ethan worked as a blacksmith; Davy taught in the one-room school. Most of the villagers were of English descent, and seemed proud to have a teacher from the mother country.
For a year all went well. And then a new preacher came to town. Right off he started preaching hellfire-and-brimstone sermons about “the sodomites amongst us,” and how their presence would bring down the wrath of God. Over the months, little by little, in subtle ways things changed for Ethan and Davy. Folks they had thought were their friends stopped speaking to them, though some had the grace to look embarrassed. Men muttered insults under their breath when passing them on the dirt street that ran through the center of town, and women avoided their eyes. Even so, it might have all gone away if a school-hating village boy, larger and stronger than Davy, had not gone to the preacher and declared that “the teacher got me alone in the schoolhouse and pulled my britches down and tried to fuck me, right there.”
There was no inquiry or hearing. The outraged preacher saw to it that Davy was instantly fired. Later that same week their house was pelted with dozens of eggs. Guns were fired, and one bullet went through a window. A few nights after the attack, two men whose skins were full of moonshine, forced their way into the house when Davy was alone and savagely beat him.
When Ethan came home and found Davy, he grabbed his shotgun, ready to charge off and shoot them all. Even with blood streaming from his nose and trickling from a cut lip and gash over his eye, Davy pleaded with Ethan, saying over and over that he hadn’t been a conscientious objector in a war just to throw it all away. Eventually he made Ethan see reason, though Ethan knew he would hate those men until his dying day.
Ethan and Davy left that night, taking only what they could carry. They had no plan, no destination, except to go where they would be left alone. They walked for days on the twisting paths, stopping often to rest. Davy bathed his swollen, bruised face and body in every cold stream they came to and healed quickly. They avoided the cabins they passed, and slept at night in each other’s arms on the ground, in shelters of bent saplings; once in a while they slept in a cave. They walked until they found a place that called to them, high on the mountain.
“This is the place, Ethan,” Davy said. “Nobody knows we’re here and we’ll be left alone. We can build a barn, and have animals and raise crops, and look, there’s already a house.”
“Such as it is,” Ethan said. “It would do for a while. We have to find out who owns it and buy it proper and legal. And City Boy, you have no idea what it will take to clear the land we need.”
“No, I don’t. But I don’t care. It will be our home. As long as we have a couple of axes, we’ll manage. You will merely have to show me how to use one.”
“It won’t be easy. We’ll still have to go down to the nearest village to buy sugar and tools and other necessaries we can’t grow. It ain’t as if we can avoid everybody forever.”
“We can try.”
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