The trail to Hell
The prisoners looked at Mabey as he walked away, and Clem said "He ain't wrong. Where we're going isn't called Hell's Mouth without reason; there are so many tales about the area it's hard which to believe and which to ignore. For myself, I believe them all."
Clem's remark wasn't said lightly, and Carter heard what he said as they crossed the yard to the canteen. The Confederates winced as the chains chafed on dry, raw skin and made the scars of the last week bleed again. The prisoners looked at the fort with sad eyes, some had served here before the Confederacy had fallen and they wept for their loss; others looked at the fort as their final sight of the remains of human life. Beyond this fort was Indian Territory, and nobody knew what to expect.
Clem hobbled over to where Mabey was sitting, and asked him, "How many of the Indian tales do you believe?"
Mabey finished his broth, and wiped his beard, then replied, "I am like you, I believe them all. Some I have only heard about, others I have witnessed for myself. All I can say is we are going to be watched like a hawk watches a hare from the moment we leave, make no mistake, once we leave we are on our own. If we get attacked, nobody will be sent to rescue us."
Clem pulled his hat back and wiped his brow, then passed a comment, "I do believe you're right. I know why my men and I are here, but what makes you come on this journey?"
Mabey smile and replied, "Me? Where else would I go? I was born here, and I'll die here. I have nothing to keep me in the fort, that's why I became a scout. Your friend must have done something awful to draw this detail though, for him it's a dead end no matter how the detail turns out."
Mason, the battle-hardened Sgt, gave a laugh and said, "Begging the Captain's pardon, sir, but I don't think the plan is for us to return; you see if we do come back, we cause problems about keeping us. If we die, there is nobody to worry about us."
Clem turned to his Sgt, and replied, "Sgt, I know, also if the detail comes back the Union will have to explain why a renowned Capt was sent on such a journey. A detail that has little or no hope of returning, and one with no hope of promotion; this is the end for Capt Dawson, and he knows it. Enemy, or not, no man deserves to die out here alone, and that is what we are expected to do."
Trooper Carter said, "I can't believe the Union would send men to their death, sir."
Ben Dawkins had been listening, and like usually keeping tabs on what was happening, he added, "How long have you been in the Army, son?"
Carter replied,"I joined up as soon as I could, that was after the Siege of Petersburg."
Dawkins laughed, then commented, "You ain't even wet behind the ears, son. You don't know what anyone can do unless you were at Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, Chickamauga or Antietam. Anyway, it won't matter whose side you're on at the end of the war, now it's us against the unknown, and that is all."
Carter left the canteen to check on the horses, the ride ahead would be hard and as much s he hated the prisoners, he loved animals. All the time, that name Hell's mouth, played on his mind.
He didn't have a chance to think what lay ahead, Capt Dawson came out, and called "Put the prisoners in the wagons, and mount up, we're on our way." Then he muttered May the Lord help us..
He didn't realize how loud he whispered, in passing, Mabey replied, "Amen to that, sir, cos there isn't anyone else who'll be there for us."