Letters from America (Part 2)

I will not bore you with a transcript of what had to be the strangest council of war in the history of the British Empire.  Did Drake know that the world had turned upside down when he prepared to face the Spanish?  Did Wolfe know that he had an encounter with destiny when he scaled the heights of Quebec?  The great men of England were shaken by what they saw and heard.  Magic, real magic…had our King made a deal with the devil, or was there godliness in their bearing?

Colonel Cavendish, the stranger from London, explained that his older brother had worked with the magicians, developing their powers.  It has been his idea to use them in war, we were told; the magicians could give us an advantage that the rebels, or the damned French, would never be able to beat.  He spun us a pretty picture of magicians convoying messages through the air faster than any mounted rider, or watching from afar as the rebels prepared their stand against us.  I dare say that the Brothers Howe were convinced and in their conviction they dragged the rest of the council in their wake.

Our plan had been simple, even before the magicians arrived to cast everything into doubt.  We knew New York of old, before trouble and strife arose to divide Britain and her colonies; we would land, take the city and thrust westwards against the rebels.  Some of us even believed that the rebels would know better than to stand in New York, for the city was almost completely indefensible.  The Royal Navy, under the command of Admiral Howe, could land troops, under the command of General Howe, almost anywhere in the region, cutting off rebel detachments from one another.  Simple prudence suggested that the rebels would not seek to hold the city, but prudence alone did not govern those men who had dared raise their hands against His Majesty the King.  They could not afford to surrender New York without a fight, or their side would falter and many would side with the Redcoats when they arrived.  And Howe intended to welcome all loyalists to his banner.

Colonel Cavendish had had months to work on his plans while the magicians had crossed the ocean; all they required was slight modifications to fit in with the situation on the ground.  His magicians – such a strange word, is it not? – would divide into two groups.  One group would land in New York and take up position where they could watch the rebels, preparing to intervene when the main body of troops arrived.  The other would be split up among the fleet and ground battalions, serving as communicators to hold the forces together.  How strange that concept was to us all!  We knew that the fog of war shrouds all operations as soon as they began.  Even a highly-trained professional force like the British Army had problems coordinating its movements.  Those of us who studied history know that all the Great Captains of history, from Alexander and Caesar to Cortes and Drake, lost the ability to know what was going on once the battle began.  But with the magicians relaying messages to the Generals, they would know what was happening.  What would it mean for the future of war if a commander could move his troops as easily and precisely as he moved his fingers?

General Howe embraced the idea at once, to his everlasting credit.  His brother and some of his subordinates were more doubtful, but Howe was the commander, appointed by the King, and so they followed in his wake.  There was some debate over what to tell the men; you will know, of course, that the lesser orders are far more superstitious than their betters.  The Brothers Howe eventually settled the issue by ordering the presence of the magicians to be kept from them.  What the common soldier doesn’t know he cannot fret about, let alone betray to the rebels if they should happen to capture him.

Once the council was over, the commanders started to return to their troops and men, accompanied by the first of the Talkers, as the magician-communicators were called.  Howe stopped me before I could take my leave and invited me to sit, something that he had done only once before, when I risked life and limb to spy on the rebels for him.  I was not surprised to discover that something very similar was in the works.  Howe informed me that he did not trust the magicians to seek out the information we needed them to seek out – how could they, when none of them had military experience?  How would they know to look for everything from fortifications to powder stores?

My mission was simple.  I was to accompany the magicians as they stole into New York.  That would pose no difficulty, even without their fantastic powers.  His Majesty’s spies had already slipped in and out of New York, which has many waterways and places to sneak on shore, many times since the rebels had overcome Royal authority in the city.  Howe’s specific instructions were very clear.  I, not the magicians, was to decide where and when they operated.  And if they objected, Howe’s letter of authority should give me all the support I would need.

I will not lie to you, my brother, and deny that the prospect filled me with unease.  The events of the day had already taken on an eerie, dreamlike quality.  Who knew just what these magicians could do?  Might they reduce me into a toad, as witches did in the stories our mother told us at night?  Or might they simply choose to defy my authority?  Truly, the world had turned upside down.  How could I even think such thoughts of loyal servants of the King?

But were they loyal servants?  I had few doubts of Cavendish, for he was clearly a soldier through and through.  But his young men – who were they?  Would they follow orders, or would they strike out on their own?

And I wondered, deep inside, just where all this would end.

I slept very poorly that night.

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