By Leonardo Antony Noto
A Warrior’s Reminiscence
June 1783: The blazing orange, tropical sun creeps above the rattan-studded horizon to announce the dawn of another sweltering day in the island paradise of Phuket, Siam. The gentle ocean breeze wafts the smell of decaying flesh into my nares as I survey the carnage of the past days’ fight from behind the cover of a thick palm. Less than a yard away, the dark skin of a dying enemy soldier is covered with vicious red ants, slowly eating him alive as he bellows out in pain-laden death throes. I climb from my jungle concealment and walk across the sandy beach to ask the dying man in the Siamese tongue if he would like for me to speed the end of his life. The soldier is too feeble for speech, barely managing a slight affirmative nod of head. I unsheathe my sword and run the man thru his jugular, stepping back respectfully as the blood gushes from the jagged wound that I have inflicted upon his neck. As I watch the life drain from the young man’s sad face, I find myself reminiscing on the first time I gazed into a pair of youthful eyes, prematurely aged by the horrors of war.
September1778 (Five Years Prior): An otherwise dull Tuesday suddenly transformed itself into a frenzy of excitement as my older brother, Henry Lee III, arrived unexpectedly in Leesylvania1 for the first time since the beginning of the colonial revolution. Mother and I had been taking our tea under the shade of our estate’s great wraparound porch while observing our slaves working the cotton fields when Henry’s silhouette had appeared over the horizon. Mother jumped up excitedly, spilling her tea and leaving a stain on the whitewashed railing, which she quite uncharacteristically ignored as she cantered down the steps to meet him.
I waved halfheartedly at my brother but remained seated for we had not parted on favorable terms and I was, frankly, not excited at the prospect of his return. Henry clambered down from his raggedly thin horse, gave Mother a hug, and then walked towards me with a pronounced limp of the right leg. I shall never forget the look of my brother’s gaze that day: gone was the shine of boyish innocence from his icy-blue eyes, replaced now with the penetrating stare of a man who had witnessed the animalistic brutality of combat. Henry’s body was transformed too, skinny now, his two-year-old uniform that had been so painstakingly sown by my mother hanging from his bones like beggar’s rags. Quite ashamed of my initial indifference, I rose from my rocking chair and hurried to assist Henry as he clumsily scaled the porch stairs.
1. ”Leesylvania”: The unofficial name of the region of Northern Virginia that lies adjacent to the Potomac River, near the present site of Washington City, where the Lee Family settled after emigrating from the British Isles.
“This leg of mine, it’s never been the same since my horse toppled over me at Brandywine Creek. Anytime I ride for more n’ an hour it cramps up somethin’ awful.” Henry mumbled as his face twisted into a grimace.
“Where are you ridin’ from, General Washington’s camp at West Point?” I inquired, eager to make conversation to disguise the shock that was plastered about my face, shock at the haggardness of my brother’s appearance.
“Yes and a fine improvement over last season’s accommodations at Valley Forge—that’s for sure. Many a good patriot froze to death in that frigid hell.” Henry muttered bitterly. “Enough with all this talk on the damned war; let us speak on somethin’ more pleasant. How’re the plans for your grand tour of Europe progressin’, Jonathan?”
“Tell us about this General Washington, Henry! Is he the hero that the papers make him out to be?” Mother loudly interjected, and to Henry’s great annoyance.
“I asked a polite and simple question about my brother, Mama!” Henry shouted, his voice hard and calloused. “Why all this subterfuge?”
“The trip’s cancelled. It’s too dangerous to cross the Atlantic anyhow now that France has entered the war.” I stated matter-of-factly as I pulled my shoulders back and puffed out my chest. I’ve decided to join the Continental Army. I leave in three days to join my regiment.”
“And Father has given his consent for this tomfoolery!” Henry demanded, his voice filled with bitterness and disdain.
“Father has his reservations, the same reservations he had when you were commissioned as I recall.”
“I didn’t realize I was kin to such a fool, throwin’ away an opportunity to travel and study in Europe, with full expenses
paid no less! Don’t you see my gimp leg, boy, and how ragged I look ‘cause of this endless fight. Is blindness overtakin’ you or is you just plain stupid!” Henry exclaimed.
“Let us speak no more on this!” Mother begged as she fought back tears.
“Speakin’ isn’t what I had in mind for him!” I blared across the patio, loud enough to distract the field slaves in the distance, my fists gripped white-knuckled in anger.
“I said enough!” Mother scolded as if we were both still young boys rather than grown men. “This is my home and y’all will respect it!”
My brother and I glared down one another with our fists tightly clinched. Mother moved between us, and with the greatest reluctance, for hot tempers run thick in my family’s blood, Henry and I backed down, unclenched our fists and entering my mother’s home, giving one another a wide berth as we dusted off our boots and stepped through the doorway. The three of us found Father reading the local news pamphlet in his old hickory rocking chair, oblivious to the commotion that we had caused outside due to an affliction of deafness caused by his time spent fighting in The War of French and Indian Aggression. Henry strolled over to him and they embraced warmly. A broad, toothless, and somewhat unnatural smile shone across my father’s wrinkled and perpetually frowning face. I stormed off to my room, ignoring Father’s thunderous calls behind me as I slammed the door and then fixated my gaze out of my bedroom window, lost in my thoughts. Later that evening the family gathered for a grand feast in my brother’s honor, specially prepared by our house slaves under the watchful eye of our finicky Ole Miss. I begrudgingly attended, but only after incessant nagging by Mother.
“Mother tells me you’ve just returned from Georgia, Father. How do you find our brethren in the Deep South are holdin’ up amidst all this chaos?” Henry inquired, loudly enough to gain Father’s attention, between generously-sized and eagerly partaken bites of honeyed pheasant.
“They’re holdin’ up better than we are, that’s for certain, though I expect the British will attempt to change that soon enough. The British generals have no choice but to take the war to the south, as important a port as Charleston has become now and is becoming more so every day. Find yourself any new musket in the hands of a Continental and I guarantee you that it was smuggled in through Charleston or Savannah on a blockade runner. Yes, the British will strike in the Deep South before this time next year, mark my word.” Father stated as he peered over his reading spectacles, his news pamphlet lying in its customary location, unfolded open upon his lap.
“And what of the cotton trade, Pa? Rumor has it that the Georgians are growin’ strains that produce twice, even thrice, the usual bounty.” Henry asked as he shook his head in disgust.
“Indeed they are, and growin’ it in the fertile soils of the Mississippi Territories in flagrant violation of their treaty with the Cherokee. They float the cotton on down the river to Mobile and New Orleans, where the British blockade remains porous. The cost of shippin’ by barge down the rivers is less than what we pay to travel our cotton by wagon over less than an eighth of the distance.” Father said dryly and with a wizened look of despair furrowing his brow. “I fear Leesylvania will only be suitable for growin’ soybeans and vegetables in the years to come. It is a thought that I have been losin’ much sleep over since my return, almost as much sleep as I have been losin’ worryin’ on you, Henry. Now, tell us of the Revolution. In what shape is the Continental Army to be found presently? It’s hard to find information in the pamphlets these days that is worth the paper that it’s printed on.”
“The war’s not a subject for the ears of women and children, Pa.” Henry said coldly, staring deeply into my eyes and as he articulated the word ‘children,’ making it clear to all present to whom he was referring.
My brother and I spoke little over the next three days, save for common courtesies that were uttered without eye contact and in guttural tones. When Henry saddled his horse to return to his regiment, I couldn’t find it in my heart to bid him farewell. I watched enviously as my brother’s war mount meandered out of our plantation, little knowing at the time that I might not ever lay eyes upon him again. This was knowledge that would have pleased me at the time, for in my youth I could not have imagined how much I would long for the company of my family—my brother included—in the dark years to come.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I am a former Army battalion surgeon turned freelance author who writes under the nom de plume, Leonardo Antony Noto. My first novel, “The Life of a Colonial Fugitive,” is an historical thriller based in the American Revolution that I wrote while on military deployment to Iraq. My second novel is a dark medical/crime thriller entitled, “The Cannabinoid Hypothesis,” that explores the life of a streetkid who becomes a neurosurgeon and then takes the world by storm with his invention of an implantable medical device for the palliation of schizophrenia. But the good doctor is now accused of an unspeakable crime and he is being pursued by a team of former Delta Force operators!
I began writing in high school as a form of self-counseling for a child abuse-induced case of PTSD, which I overcame (at least somewhat), attending medical school and serving my country in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division. My hobbies include playing the guitar, amateur Thai boxing, Brazilian jiu jitsu, and spending time with my pet bulldog, who is 6 months old!
After great thought, I have decided to give up the practice of medicine to concentrate on my writing, which is my true passion. I am planning to release two more books this year, both of which are currently >50% completed. The first is a memoir entitled, “Three Years in the Army: A Doctor’s Journey in the Green Uniform,” a book exploring my postgraduate medical training and my life as a military physician in the airborne and overseas. My second work-in-progress is a novel about streetgangs, “Lords and Disciples,” which is set in Memphis, TN, the city where I spent much of my childhood.
I am also researching two other planned novels, both of which I hope to release in 2013. I pride myself on my detailed research and I never write about anything that I haven’t spent at least a year researching. I also generally visit locations, even foreign ones, at least once before I write about them, which I believe greatly aids the accuracy my writing (and it’s fun too!).
Dr. Leonardo Antony Noto