Chapter Eighteen - War Drums

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Dinner that evening proved to be quite a wretched affair, at least in Tarleton's estimation. If trying to politely fork food into his mouth whilst all the while struggling not to regurgitate everything he swallowed was torture enough, having to keep up conversation with the prominent and high-ranking officers around him made the meal simply unbearable. It came to the point where Tarleton believed quite whole-heartedly that either dinner had to end soon or else he would surely die of anguish. Thankfully, none of the other officers around him noticed the sickening inner turmoil he was experiencing.

When dinner was finally concluded and the officers were sent off with the strict order to meet back in the dining room the next morning to go over battle plans, Tarleton wearily made his way upstairs to his quarters. Situated in the room next door to Grace's bedchamber-turned-cell out of an extra precaution on the general's part, Tarleton cringed at the cruel irony he was subject to. He had answered General Cornwallis's summons out of anticipation that he would find himself farther removed from Grace, not to be forced closer together to her. Angered and dismayed at this fact, Tarleton almost completely ignored the fact that Grace resided in the room directly beside his own, almost.

As he approached his chamber, he was overcome with the inexplicable urge to see her, somehow apologize for the role he feared that he was soon about to play.

By the small shaft of candlelight that spilled out from beneath her door, he concluded that she must still be awake. For a moment, he could hardly muster the strength to knock. Although he held in his possession the key to her room and could simply enter any time he wished, he felt that he at least owed her this politeness. His knock was soft and swift.

"Who is it?"

He could hear her soft, melodious voice call out disinterestedly. Suddenly, Tarleton felt himself lose his ability for words. What was he doing there anyways? What need had he to apologize for a matter that was completely out of his control?

"I was sure I heard a knock."

He could feel himself hold his breath at the sound of her voice as he kept decidedly quiet. After spending some time in silence, he could hear the soft patter of footsteps make their way to the door. Before she reached for the doorknob, however, Grace ventured one last effort at making the stranger at her door respond to her questions.

"Why don't you just come in here, then? If you're one of Cornwallis's or Tarleton's men you must certainly have a key that allows you in at any time you please."

Her tone was now almost mocking as she began getting annoyed at what she perceived was an intruder at her door. Tarleton still kept silent, however, unwilling to speak and contemplating simply leaving to retire to his room for the night before she could open the door. But, he realized that he was too curious to see what she would do to will himself to leave.

"Oh alright!"

The door suddenly flew open.

"Tarleton?"

Grace whispered his name after letting out a sharp expulsion of air from her lungs in surprise. He gazed down upon her almost softly as he took in her stern, yet startled features and the way that the candlelight danced across her loose brown curls and across the delicate contours of her face.

"What is it you want, Sir?"

Her cool formal address to him pierced his heart like an icicle as her unwelcoming tone reminded him of that previous evening's events. What did he want? To apologize to her? But how? How was he simply to say "I'm sorry for being the one the general has been instructed to put a knife to your throat and possibly slit it if your father does not sell his very soul to the crown"? How could anyone say that?

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