Thy Brother's Blood

by Pete Peterson

A divided nation is at war, neighbor fighting neighbor, brother killing brother. Two young men, one slave and one free, are lifelong friends and, unknown to them, half-brothers with a common father. The contrasting colors of their skins has put them on opposite sides of a bitter and bloody conflict. This is the epic story of these men, the women they love and of a people in turmoil over issues that divide a nation, then and now—an action-filled and emotion-packed tale of love, vengeance, and the search for justice that will bring a lump to your throat, joy to your heart and hope for a better day. Based on actual events.


Chapter One

The woman named Hattie cocked the broom over her right shoulder as she burst out the screen door onto the tiled veranda. Hollering “Shoo!” she swung with all her might at a large pelican perched on the rail. Narrowly avoiding the fast-closing swat, the dirty-feathered bird sprung ponderously onto the sandy hard pack of the ranch yard, landing beak first with an indignant squawk. The momentum of her swing threw Hattie off-balance and carried her into the porch rail. She teetered there, bent at the waist, almost joining the pelican in the yard.

“Blast you, Lafayette! I catch you messin' on my porch again, I'll regard you a chicken and serve you up with dumplin's.”

As she was obliged to do most every day, she busied herself cleaning away the pile of droppings from the eccentric pet that had insinuated itself into the good graces of the other members of the household. Hattie, charged with maintenance of the ranch house and its environs, found the messy bird less amusing.

Hattie was a looker, folks said, standing shoulder high to the tall men in her life, still possessing a form that jerked men's heads around—long legs, sparrow waist, full proud breasts—at an age somewhere shy of forty. (She was not sure of her exact birth date, and it was not written down anywhere that she could recollect). There was a frosting of gray in the tight, glistening black curls of her hair, at the temples and the crown of her head. Her skin was the color of coffee made rich with top cream, and smooth, save for tiny cracks of humor at the corners of her large brown eyes and bracketing her full mouth.

The ranch house of Mexican Hat was Hattie's domain, inviolate, and she wielded a firm but gentle scepter. Technically, she supposed, Hattie was a slave, but she did not feel that it was so. Did not Jacob Standard, master of this sprawling Gulf Coast cattle ranch, confer upon his Negroes the same fair, firm treatment his white and Mexican hands received? Hattie felt content with her situation. Fortunate. Even happy at times. She had a good home, with pleasant work enough to keep her busy, and friends among the women of the other colored hands and Mexican vaqueros. And she had two strong sons.

Thoughts of her sons were thrust into the moment as shrill, exuberant shouts and the onrushing tattoo of horses' hooves on sandy soil punctured the quiet of the evening. Hattie turned to watch a pair of young riders top a high grass-covered dune, slide their horses down the embankment and come racing toward the ranch yard, laughing and whipping their mounts on with the Texas hats in their hands.

The men were in their early twenties. Joshua was the taller of the two at six foot one, his well-muscled, athletic body held straight and proud in the saddle. He was Hattie's natural son, inheriting her attractiveness, her rich, brown complexion and her status as a slave. Josh's most striking feature, uncommon among men of color, was his eyes, green as the Gulf waters. William Mackenzie Standard, six month's Josh's junior, was two inches shorter with a slender, wiry frame, broad shoulders and narrow hips. He rode with the practiced ease of a natural horseman, his ash blond hair flying, his hazel eyes squinted against the rush of the wind. To Hattie this young white man was as much her son as the other. She had taken the pale infant to suckle at her breast when his natural mother died in childbirth. She had raised him alongside her own little brown baby and they had grown to manhood as constant companions and the best of friends.

Both men came to a dirt-flinging, sliding halt in front of the veranda. Summoning a stern frown, Hattie yelled out to them.

“How many times I got to tell you scamps not to come stormin' in here like a pair of wild Indians?”

Will and Josh slid off their saddles and walked to Mama Hattie, one on each side of her, and planted kisses on her cheeks. She waved them off and stepped back.

Josh reached to his saddle to retrieve a string of four mottled ducks, their feet tied together with a piggin string. He thrust them at his mother. “Here's supper, Mama.”

Hattie cringed, wrinkling her nose.

“Duck? That what you two was makin' all the ruckus about? I swear, if you boys can't bring in somethin' fit to eat, don't bring nothin'. Josh, you take that mess down and give it to Long Tom's woman. He'll eat anything don't snap back. Then fill my woodbox...

"Thy Brother's Blood" - Pete Peterson


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