Taylor:THE COMPANY OF SNIPERS Book 7By: Irish Winters
To my friends
Rhett and Emmaline Hoffmeister
For showing me the way
Two angels and now two whitened sepulchers...
Mary White Hawk’s death occurred just as the bright Virginia sun kissed the April soil with the warmth of another spring day. A single shaft of sunlight stretched across her nursing home bed like a warm hand from the great beyond reaching to guide her home. It seemed fitting she’d leave while the world shook off the chill of winter. She’d loved this time of year—before it happened.
Peter was holding Mary’s hand when she left, the gnarled, twisted excuse that no longer resembled fingers, thumb, or palm. Mary’s brothers, Luke and Matthew, had been called, but she couldn’t wait for them. Instead, she breathed one final gasp that sounded like Mama, and left in the twinkling of an eye.
Sweet Mary hadn’t spoken for years. Had her mother come to take her home to Heaven after all this time? The thought comforted Gracie. She placed a call to Luke and Matthew to let them know there was no need to hurry. Mary was home at last.
For too many years, Gracie had stood by Mary’s side with Peter or his sons, Luke and Matthew. He’d bought her a horse in hopes of tempting her away from death’s door, but she never learned to ride. He filled her room with flowers and pictures, anything to bring her back to the living side of the veil, but day after day she lay oblivious to him and the world around her.
Gracie sang lullabies from Mary’s baby days, camp songs, silly songs, church hymns and movie scores, but nothing broke through to the limbo where her soul had fled. She seemed stuck. Forever gone and yet, forever there. Unable to live. Unable to die.
For fifteen years, she lingered. Her muscles curled. Tendons withered. Her once shiny black hair thinned, then fell out. Mary wasted away. Breathing became a thing for machines and medicines to accomplish in her behalf. Her strong heart betrayed her, refusing the mercy of death in her hours, days and years of need.
To Gracie, Mary was an older sister. Though not related by blood, she couldn’t remember a day Mary was not part of her life. Only twelve when it happened, Gracie learned the gentle ways of caring for another from her mother, Patience. Bound by oaths of love, family, and tribe, Gracie knew what it meant to promise and then to fulfill that promise day after day and year after year.
She’d made two in her life. One to care for Mary. The other to watch over Peter’s grandson. It was the way of her people. Her tribe. Her heart. That was why she also called Peter “Grandfather,” her love for him and stronger than the confines of blood.
Peter gazed upon the face of his baby girl one last time. Gracie knew he didn’t see the tubes and wires. He didn’t notice the skin that sloughed from Mary’s shell either, that empty chalice drained of its last drop of life. Nor did he see the woman who looked more like an eighty-year-old dried-up crone.
All he saw was his youngest child with streaming black hair trailing behind her as she used to run to him with a heartfelt, “Papa!” at the end of a weary day. All he remembered was the infant girl he’d rocked on his knee and held in his arms so many moons ago. Her smile was his sunshine, his breath, his life. She had been his treasure to guard and his darling to love. Now his alone to avenge.
Gracie went to his side, but there was nothing left to say. Mary’s funeral had been planned for years. “I want to come with you,” she murmured, though she already knew his answer. For this final hunt, there could be no companions, accomplices, or witnesses. This was the work for one man and one man only.
He patted her cheek gently but said nothing.
“There is another way,” she whispered. There has to be.
She tried one last time. “Please don’t go. Don’t do this.”
He retrieved the single arrow from Mary’s bed where he’d set it when he’d arrived. The long shaft glistened with spots of blood-like red near the fletching of white goose feathers. Most white men wouldn’t understand the significance of those particular markings unless they were trained, but Gracie did. They were nothing less than Peter’s signature. His pride. His declaration of war.