Lori Benton’s stunning new historical novel, The Wood’s Edge (WaterBrook Multnomah), is a story of decisions, regrets, relationship and faith. How can one decision shape the course of your life? Benton attempts to answer this question and more. Dive into 1757 and visit the British colonists on the frontier of New York.
August 9, 1757
A white flag flew over Fort William Henry. The guns were silent
now, yet the echo of cannon-fire thumped and roared in the ears of Reginald
Aubrey, officer of His Majesty’s Royal Americans.
Emerging from the hospital casemate with a bundle in his arms,
Reginald squinted at the splintered bastion where the white flag hung, wilted
and still in the humid air. Lieutenant Colonel Monro, the fort’s commanding
officer, had ordered it raised at dawn—to the mingled relief and dread of the
dazed British regulars and colonials trapped within the fort.
Though he’d come through six days of siege bearing no worse
than a scratch—and the new field rank of major—beneath Reginald’s scuffed red
coat, his shirt clung sweat-soaked to his skin. Straggles of hair lay plastered
to his temples in the midday heat. Yet his bones ached as though it was winter,
and he a man three times his five-and-twenty years.
Earlier an officer had gone forth to hash out the particulars
of the fort’s surrender with the French general, the Marquis de Montcalm.
Standing outside the hospital with his bundle, Reginald had the news of
Montcalm’s terms from Lieutenant Jones, one of the few fellow Welshmen in his
“No prisoners, sir. That’s the word come down.” Jones’s eyes
were bloodshot, his haggard face soot-blackened. “Every soul what can walk will
be escorted safe under guard to Fort Edward, under parole…”
Jones went on detailing the articles of capitulation, but
Reginald’s mind latched on to the mention of Fort Edward, letting the rest
stream past. Fort Edward, some fifteen miles by wilderness road, where General
Webb commanded a garrison two thousand strong, troops he’d not seen fit to send
to their defense, despite Colonel Monro’s repeated pleas for aid—as it seemed
the Almighty Himself had turned his back these past six days on the entreaties
of the English. And those of Reginald Aubrey.
Why standest thou afar off, O LORD?
Ringing silence lengthened before Reginald realized Jones had
ceased speaking. The lieutenant eyed the bundle Reginald cradled, speculation
in his gaze. Hoarse from bellowing commands through the din of mortar and
musket fire, Reginald’s voice rasped like a saw through wood. “It might have
gone worse for us, Lieutenant. Worse by far.”
“He’s letting us walk out of here with our heads high,” Jones
agreed, grudgingly. “I’ll say that for Montcalm.”
Overhead the white flag stirred in a sudden fit of breeze that
threatened to clear the battle smoke but brought no relief from the heat.
I am feeble and sore and broken. I have roared by reason of the
disquietness of my heart—
Reginald said, “Do you go and form up your men, Jones. Make
ready to march.”
“Aye, sir.” Jones saluted, gaze still fixed on Reginald’s
cradling arms. “Am I to be congratulating you, Capt—Major, sir? Is it a son?”
Reginald looked down at what he carried. A corner of its
wrappings had shifted. He freed a hand to settle it back in place. “That it
All my desire is before thee; and my groaning is not hid from
“Ah, that’s good then. And your wife? She’s well?”
“She is alive, God be thanked.” The words all but choked him.
The lieutenant’s mouth flattened. “For myself, I’d be more
inclined toward thanking Providence had it seen fit to prod Webb off his
It occurred to Reginald he ought to have reprimanded Jones for
that remark, but not before the lieutenant had trudged off through the mill of
bloodied, filthy soldier-flesh to gather the men of his company in preparation
Aye. It might have gone much worse. At least his men weren’t fated
to rot in some fetid French prison, awaiting ransom or exchange. Or, worst of
terrors, given over to their Indians.
My heart panteth, my strength faileth me—
As for Major Reginald Aubrey of His Majesty’s Royal
Americans…he and his wife were condemned to live, and to grieve. Turning to
carry out the sentence, he descended back into the casemate, in his arms the
body of his infant son, born as the last French cannon thundered, dead but half
an hour past.
He’d been alone with his son when it happened. Spent after
twenty hours of wrenching labor, Heledd had barely glimpsed the child before
succumbing to exhaustion. She’d slept since on the narrow cot, the babe she’d
fought so long to birth nested in the curve of her arm. Craving the light his
son had shed in that dark place, Reginald had returned to them, had come in
softly, had bent to admire his offspring’s tiny pinched face, only to find the
precious light had flickered and gone out.
A hatchet to his chest could not have struck a deeper blow.
He’d clapped a hand to his mouth, expecting his life’s blood to gush forth from
the wound. When it hadn’t, he’d taken up the tiny body, still pliable in its
wrappings, and left his sleeping wife to wander the shadowed casemate, gutted
behind a mask of pleasantry as those he passed offered weary felicitations,
until he’d met Lieutenant Jones outside.
How was he to tell Heledd? To speak words that would surely
crush what remained of her will to go on? These last days, trapped inside a
smoking, burning hell, had all but undone her…
Reginald started for the stuffy timbered room where his wife
had given birth—but was soon again halted, this time by sight of a woman. She
lay in an alcove off the casemate’s main passage…
The alcove was dimly lantern-lit. Disheveled, malodorous
pallets lined the walls, all vacated except for the one upon which the woman
lay. A trade-cloth tunic and deerskin skirt edged with tattered fringe covered
her slender frame. Her fair sleeping face was young, the thick braid fallen
across her shoulder blond. No bandages or blood marked any injury. Reginald
wondered at her presence until he saw beside her on the pallet a bundle much
like the one he carried, save that it emitted soft kittenish mewls. Sounds his
son would never make again.
He remembered the woman then. She’d been brought in by scouts
just before Montcalm’s forces descended and the siege began, liberated from a
band of Indians a mile from the fort. For weeks such bands had streamed in from
the west, tribes from the mountains and the lake country beyond, joining
Montcalm’s forces at Fort Carillon…
The woman’s chest rose with breath, though her skin was ashen.
A heap of blood-soaked linen shoved against the log wall attested to the cause.
He started to wake her, thinking to see if she knew the fort had fallen—could
he make himself understood. That was when he realized. The bundle beside her
contained not a baby, but babies. One had just kicked aside the covering to
bare two small faces, two pairs of shoulders…
They were as different as two newborns could be except—a peek
beneath the blanket told him—both were male.
That was where resemblance ended, at least in that dimness. For
while the infant on the left had a head of black hair and skin that foretold a
tawny shade, the one on the right, capped in wisps of blond, was as fair and
pink as Reginald’s dead son.