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Authors: Alex Archer

Cradle of Solitude

“Do you have any idea why the thieves would be interested only in our Confederate friend's remains?”

Annja frowned. “That's all they took?”

“They were only interested in the skeleton and the documentation pertaining to it that you and Professor Reinhardt assembled. Nothing else was touched, including items of considerable value that were in plain view in Dr. Reinhardt's office.”

That put an entirely different spin on things. Breaking and entering to steal museum pieces worth millions was one thing; doing so just to make off with the recently recovered remains of a Confederate captain no one even knew existed was another.

Her thoughts turned immediately to the shadowed figure she'd encountered in the catacombs the night before.

There was more going on here than she'd realized.

Titles in this series:

Destiny

Solomon's Jar

The Spider Stone

The Chosen

Forbidden City

The Lost Scrolls

God of Thunder

Secret of the Slaves

Warrior Spirit

Serpent's Kiss

Provenance

The Soul Stealer

Gabriel's Horn

The Golden Elephant

Swordsman's Legacy

Polar Quest

Eternal Journey

Sacrifice

Seeker's Curse

Footprints

Paradox

The Spirit Banner

Sacred Ground

The Bone Conjurer

Tribal Ways

The Dragon's Mark

Phantom Prospect

Restless Soul

False Horizon

The Other Crowd

Tear of the Gods

The Oracle's Message

Cradle of Solitude

Rogue Angel
™

Alex Archer
CRADLE OF SOLITUDE

THE LEGEND

…THE ENGLISH COMMANDER TOOK JOAN'S SWORD AND RAISED IT HIGH.

The broadsword, plain and unadorned, gleamed in the firelight. He put the tip against the ground and his foot at the center of the blade. The broadsword shattered, fragments falling into the mud. The crowd surged forward, peasant and soldier, and snatched the shards from the trampled mud. The commander tossed the hilt deep into the crowd. Smoke almost obscured Joan, but she continued praying till the end, until finally the flames climbed her body and she sagged against the restraints.

Joan of Arc died that fateful day in France, but her legend and sword are reborn….

1

Richmond, Virginia
April 2, 1865

The choir had just begun the “Hallelujah” chorus when the door to the church flew open with a bang. Confederate President Jefferson Davis, seated at the front of the church next to his wife, Varina, turned and watched as a man raced down the center aisle toward him.

That he had come from the front lines was obvious; his face and hands were covered with dirt and soot, while his uniform looked as if it hadn't been washed in a month. A bloodstained scrap of bandage encircled his head just below the hairline, but since it didn't seem to slow him, Davis guessed that the wound it covered was at least a few days old. Rank insignia on his uniform indicated the man was a captain, though Davis couldn't remember the man's name.

Reaching him, the soldier leaned against the end of the pew, took a moment to catch his breath and then stammered, “G-G-General Lee's line at Petersburg has
broken, sir, and he intends to fall back and evacuate the city immediately.”

Shocked murmurs erupted as those within earshot repeated what was said to those around them. Even the Episcopalian minister presiding over the day's worship services came down from his lofty perch on the pulpit to hear the news.

Davis ignored everyone but the messenger.

“How long can Lee hold them, Captain?”

The man shook his head. “Not long, sir. He bid me to urge you to hurry. He can give you a few hours, but expects that the enemy will be inside the city limits by nightfall.”

Nightfall.
That gave them five, maybe six hours at most. If they were going to get the government out of Richmond, never mind save what was left of the treasury, they had to get started immediately.

“Convey my regards to General Lee and tell him that we will execute our retreat plan. Godspeed, Captain.”

As the messenger hurried from the church, Davis turned to his wife and made his apologies. There was no way he could sit through the service now, not with the evacuation of the entire city to plan and carry out in less than half a dozen hours. He caught the eye of his aide-de-camp and the two of them rose and rushed down the aisle.

Time was of the essence and Davis didn't intend to waste any of it.

Fifteen minutes later the president was ensconced with the vice president and several members of his cabinet in the living room of the house on the corner of Twelfth and K streets that served as both the executive mansion and his family residence. An evacuation plan had not been established, for neither Davis nor any of
the other members of his administration had foreseen the fall of the city. The rest of the day would be spent trying to correct that oversight. The executive mansion held thousands of documents that might give the Union a leg up in their push to destroy the Confederacy and aides were immediately set to the task of burning as many of them as possible. The vast warehouses of stockpiled supplies also had to be dealt with, for to allow them to fall into Union hands and be used against the very soldiers they had been intended for was completely unacceptable. Orders were given to deal with the problem. Perishable foodstuffs would be given away free of charge until sundown to any who arrived at the warehouses to claim them. The casks of rum and other liquors would be smashed open and poured out in the streets, to keep the public from indulging in a drunken frenzy when they most needed to keep steady heads on their shoulders. But it was the order to burn the tobacco warehouses that pained Davis the most, for the crop inside them represented the future for so many of the citizens he had sworn to protect. Losing their harvest would be devastating.

Of course, it paled in comparison to losing their homes. But at least he would do what he could to see that as many of them escaped ahead of the Union Army as was possible.

Lee was just going to have to hold on.

The night loomed ahead of them, growing more threatening by the minute.

 

T
HE TRAIN WAS LATE
.

Captain William Parker sat astride his horse near the end of the platform and stared worriedly down the tracks into the darkness. He could hear the Union guns
in the distance, shelling Lee's lines, and he knew it wouldn't be long before the order was given for the retreat. The general could only hold out so long and he was already well beyond the time frame he'd given the president. Soon the front would fall, the Confederate troops would retreat through the city streets, and Richmond would fall into Union hands. When that happened, the chances of getting out of the city at all, never mind getting out with their cargo intact, would shrink considerably.

Where the hell is that train?

He turned and looked back at the squad of men he'd commandeered to help him carry out his mission, shaking his head at the sight. With every able-bodied soldier doing their damnedest to keep the Yanks from entering the city limits, he'd been forced to make do with a group of midshipmen off the
Patrick Henry,
the thirteen-hundred-ton side-wheel gunboat he'd converted into a floating school for the Navy. Some of the “men” in his command weren't more than twelve years old!

God help me. How am I supposed to guard the treasury with schoolboys?

Thankfully, the plan was simple enough. A single rail line still stood open between Richmond and Danville. With two trains at their disposal, President Davis and his staff would be on the first one out, with Parker and his special cargo following in the other. Once in Danville, they'd go their separate ways.

Parker had no illusions as to why he and his cargo—about seven hundred thousand dollars worth of gold ingots, gold coins, silver bricks and Mexican silver dollars—were on the second train. If things became difficult farther down the tracks, the unspoken hope was that the Union soldiers would be more interested in the
treasure than in securing the president, thereby allowing Davis to evade capture and escape.

It was a good backup plan, made better by the fact that it actually had some hope of success, and Parker approved of it despite the risk to himself and those under his command. The Confederacy might be able to replace the treasury, but it wouldn't recover from the capture of its beloved president.

A glance at his pocket watch told him that it was past eleven. The fact that they'd made it this late in the night without being overrun by the enemy was another of General Lee's miracles. He'd dug in just outside the city and withstood charge after charge, buying them the time they needed, doggedly determined to keep the Yanks off the streets of the capital as long as possible. Lee's predicated deadline of nightfall had come and gone and still the Army of Northern Virginia held out. Parker didn't know how he did it; he was just thankful they had a man like Lee on their side.

But even Lee could not keep it up much longer.

A rumbling sound broke his reverie and he looked up to see the locomotive coming down the tracks toward them, smoke pouring from its stack. His feelings of relief quickly turned to concern, however, when the engine drew closer and he saw the condition of the train.

Getting here hadn't been easy, it seemed. Great dents marred the smooth curve of the boiler and the sides of the cab had been shot full of holes. The roof of the tender had been torn away entirely, most likely the result of a well-placed cannon shot, and the engineer manning the coal shovel had a bloody bandage wrapped around his head and covering one side of his face. The cars beyond hadn't fared much better.

The train had already slowed considerably by the
time it reached Parker and he watched it roll on and continue for a few more yards before coming to a stop with the hiss of brakes and a cloud of steam. No sooner had it done so than Army officers swarmed inside, checking it over. When the okay signal was given the boarding began, starting first with the president and his cabinet, followed by what was left of their staff.

Parker didn't have time to watch the parade, however, for the second train arrived on the heels of the first and he had work to do.

“Quickly now!” he shouted to the boys in his command and they snapped to, unloading the heavy chests from the wagons and carrying them aboard the train, stacking them against the rear wall of the car to which they'd been assigned.

Halfway through the job one of the midshipmen stumbled, dropping the sack he carried and spilling silver coins over the edge of the platform onto the tracks below.

Parker grabbed the boy as he readied himself to climb down and retrieve them.

“No time, son,” Parker said. “Some lucky fool will no doubt pick them up, but it's not going to be you or me. Back to work now.”

It took them just shy of an hour, but at last all of the cargo was loaded and the rest of the cars were filled with as many of the people fleeing the city as they could possibly pack into them. Parker gave up his seat to another passenger, finding a place on the roof of the car alongside his second in command, Lieutenant Jonathan Sykes, and two midshipmen whose names he couldn't dredge up from memory in his exhausted state.

No sooner had he settled himself onto the roof of the car than the train lurched into motion without warn
ing, the usual whistle being dispensed with so as not to alert the enemy to their escape. The train moved slowly at first, sluggishly pulling away from the platform, and Parker found himself silently urging it on, as if his thoughts could somehow propel the train faster down the tracks.

Refugees lined either side of the tracks, moving forward through the darkness like the wandering tribes of Israel headed for the promised land. Parker was thankful it was too dark to see their faces, for his own despair and dismay were enough for him; he didn't need to witness anyone else's.

As they rolled across the bridge at the city limits, Sykes suddenly shouted, “Look!”

Parker followed his pointing finger back toward Richmond and saw an angry red glow lighting the sky. The thunder of distant explosions reached his ears as the glow grew brighter, spreading across the horizon.

Richmond was aflame.

“Damn Yanks have fired the city!” One of the midshipmen cursed.

Parker knew better, but he didn't bother correcting the young man. Morale was bad enough; the men in his command didn't need to know that the fire was the result of a direct order from the president, designed to ensure that nothing of value would be left for the Union troops to use against them. The warehouses along the waterfront had been full of powder and shot, too much to be moved swiftly, and rather than allowing it to fall into the hands of the enemy, Davis had ordered the entire lot to be set alight.

With the skyline glowing brightly behind him and the enemy's guns echoing in the distance, Parker set his gaze forward and settled in for the ride.

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