The story continues
There are four characters.
The first is a girl. She seeks vengeance.
The second is a man. He seeks peace.
The third is a woman. She seeks justice.
The last seeks freedom.
Friday, April 16, 1805.
It was happening.
James had woken up early, earlier than he’d wanted to, unable to stay asleep. Hours of waiting in the dark, thinking, worrying, wondering. When Josephine got up they’d hugged and walked out to meet the future together. The Crows slowly filed into the weapons training area, one by one, steely-eyed. Nathaniel gave them a speech, and when he was done a united roar had filled the factory. Every man, woman, and even some children had taken weapons from the racks. Evelyn gave Josephine a tense look, him a small nod. Then it was time to go outside.
They started out as a small crowd – the fifty or so Crows from the factory, marching over rain-drenched cobbles towards Newgate Prison. People left their homes and joined them, wielding sabres and knives and torches, wearing grey shirts and tattered rags. Chanting began from a lone voice within the crowd. Freedom. Others opened their mouths too. Freedom. The sound grew, echoing throughout the streets, and Whitechapel heard the call. Freedom. The small trickle of people turned into a flood, and the waters gushed down the roads and thoroughfares, crashing around the corners. Freedom. The chant became a cacophony. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. Hundreds of hateful eyes and shouting mouths, all united.
In the midst of it all, James was jostled forward, Josephine desperately trying to stay with him.
Have I done the right thing?
Could things be different?
Those words echoed in his head as they marched on, but in his heart James knew wondering was fruitless. The die had already been cast. Many of the living, breathing, fighting people around him were going to die today, that much was for certain.
“Hey.” Josephine, beside him, leaning in close to be heard over the chanting. “You are making that face again.” James glanced at her, uncomprehending. “Your thinking face,” she said.
“Oh – uh-”
“Don’t think, James. Not right now. Right now, you need to be here.”
Wordlessly, he nodded, forcing himself to look up. Ahead was Newgate, its stone walls standing over the city. In the windows, weak morning sunlight glinted off bayonets. For the last ten minutes his heart had been drumming away, slowly getting faster, and now it rolled into a crescendo as the Crows stopped near the walls – close enough to be heard, far enough to be out of range. James watched in a sort of surreal daze as Nathaniel Ainsworth came forward, a sabre and pistol in his hands.
“Time for us to move,” Josephine whispered. When James didn’t register what she’d said she took his hand and guided him through the crowd, to the far back where they’d be safe and unnoticed.
“How many soldiers does London have?” Josephine asked, looking back up at the prison.
“Most of the army’s deployed on the European mainland,” James murmured. “There’s only ten thousand in London, I think. Some would’ve defected to the Crows. The rest would all be here.”
“Should be enough. It looks like there is only a few hundred here.”
Should be enough. She was talking about the waiting deaths of hundreds of people like it was nothing.
Stop being so soft.
“Yeah,” James said. “Should be.”
At the head of the crowd, Nathaniel turned to face his soldiers. Over the innumerable heads of waiting Crows, James could see some men on horseback, sabres raised high. Defected cavalrymen? Trained horses were not something you could just come by.
“London!” Nathaniel shouted, and the crowd shouted back in response, incoherent yells of anger and pride and rebellion.
“Today is the day we win back our lives!”
More deafening cheering. James tried to block it out, knowing Nathaniel’s words were treasonous but wanting to hear them nonetheless. Nathaniel’s voice lowered and Whitechapel followed suit to hear him, every man, woman and child falling unnervingly silent.
“We have waited a long time for this. Years of the toffs working us to the bone, paying us nothing, and spitting in our faces.”
Cheering. Like him, Josephine was quiet, her eyes not wavering from Nathaniel’s flushed face.
“Years of being stepped on, years of being treated like rubbish, years of asking why and getting no answer.”
More cheering. Nathaniel’s tone rose up again into a furious roar.
The Crows rose with him, cheering and whooping and clapping, stomping their feet.
“WE ARE TIRED OF WAITING!”
And now the noise began to swell, getting louder and louder until it threatened to burst James’ ears.
“WE WANT FREEDOM!”
Nathaniel’s sabre went in the air and so did the Crows’, moving as one. The chant began again. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom.
“WE ARE THE POOR! WE ARE THE MISTREATED! WE ARE THE FARMERS AND SOLDIERS AND FACTORY WORKERS!”
Still people were pouring in from every corner of the city, gathering around the prison. They were more than just a few hundred by now, surely. James closed his eyes.
“WE ARE THE PEOPLE! AND WHAT DO THE PEOPLE WANT?”
Freedom. The word was shouted out by a thousand furious mouths speaking as one, echoing throughout the city, making sure it was heard. At the front, he could see Richard standing by his leader, shouting just as angrily as the rest, holding his trademark musket aloft. Gerard was with him. Mark and Max Cobham, cheering together. Henri Boucher. Haines and Smith and Walter and Avery and Orwell. Dozens upon dozens of Crows that he’d met but never talked to, never even thought about. The noise reached its peak and James let go of a pent-up breath.
“This is almost like the Revolution,” Josephine said suddenly, pulling him out of his thoughts. “In France.”
“Almost?” he asked distantly.
“Except we had a lot more people. And our prison was a lot bigger.”
“Of course it was.”
“And the prison had…” the woman trailed off, looking at something to the side. James followed her gaze and froze.
Shining in the sun, being carted along by horses and men, rumbling as they went along. There was no doubt about it.
“…Cannons,” Josephine finished faintly.