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Posted December 23, 2009

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Fan Fiction: With These Two Hands

Title: With These Two Hands

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Disclaimer: All your Rivers of War are belong Eric Flint & Etc.

Rating: PG.

Summary: They'd been the right men, in the right place, at the right time. 1000 words.

Spoilers: Eric Flint's "Trail of Glory" novels - set between "The Rivers of War" and "1824: The Arkansas War".

Notes: Written in Yuletide 2009. Alludes to past canonical awfulness inflicted on the central character.

Henry Crowell smoothed a wide, callused palm over the polished surface of his massive new desk, and looked around the roughed-out walls of the room that would very shortly be the president's office of New Antrim's largest bank. His office, it was; his to run, and half his by ownership, too. He had worked hard to earn it, but on days like this, he could still scarcely believe his own fortune.

The walls were still bare of decoration, the bookshelves unfilled, the stools the clients would sit on not yet put in place, and the imposing banker's chair ordered from McParland's new furniture factory up at Fort of 98 still in the back of a wagon somewhere on its way to the city, but the heavy structure of the desk gave the otherwise empty room a weight it hadn't held before. It was like a fore-echo of all the business that would soon pass through its doors: all the people whose dreams would be financed by the money he lent them, and those who would bring in the money to make it possible.

All too many of the folk who were flocking to the Confederacy of the Arkansas were just as dirt-poor as Henry himself had been as a young man, or poorer still, owning only the skins they arrived in and the clothes on their backs. There was room in these new lands for anyone who decided to come, provided each and every one had the gumption to pull their own weight. But there were also those like Henry, who bore their scars and their profits in equal measure; and those like his newest business partner Henry Shreve, who'd sought out the Confederacy for the exciting opportunities it presented.

Freedmen, escaped slaves, Cherokee and Creek, abolitionists and amalgamators, businessmen and preachers, and military men like Patrick Driscol who felt every man should have a say in his own fate-- it had taken all kinds of folk to give birth to a nation where a black man could call himself a banker without hiding behind a white partner anymore, and it had all started with a chance encounter on the road to Washington between a one-armed Irish lieutenant and a black wagon driver. Henry could still recall the way his heart had jumped into his throat that day in 1814 when Driscol had demanded the use of his wagon without hardly a glance at his face; in that moment, he'd been woefully sure the work of eight long years at Foxall's Foundry and every half-penny he'd earned in the years since was about to be ripped away from him, with only a fool's hope of repayment.

Instead, Driscol had asked him to continue driving; and then, when he realized that Henry himself was the owner of the wagon, had not only sworn to pay him in gold should something happen to it, but made sure the trip was a profitable one, overcharging the soldiers they picked up as escort along the journey for the food Henry had been transporting. Once in Washington, that business with Driscol had brought Henry to the notice of then-Captain Sam Houston, who'd taken on the defense of the Capitol, and then-gunner's mate Charles Ball; and from there, he'd been swept up in a crazy whirlwind of battles, business, and politics the half-literate teamster he'd been that day would never have believed possible.

The right men, in the right place, at the right time. Thought it hadn't exactly all been roses from there.

Henry had killed men with his own two hands in time of war; had shed blood alongside men of all shades of skin in defense of a country that found freedmen inconvenient; and had nearly died for the simple crime of earning the love and respect of a Creole woman too pale and too important for the likes of him. If he had one regret about the series of events that had brought him to that awful day in New Orleans, it was that he would never be able to give his wife children of his own body; but there were other ways to please, and be pleased by, his fine lady, and other ways a man might leave a legacy behind. He'd been through just about the worst a human being could suffer, and survived; had been avenged; had thrived, and was now in a position where he could loan others a chance to grasp at successes they might otherwise never be allowed.

They were building something in the Confederacy of the Arkansas worth fighting for, Henry believed. Something they might well have to fight for, and soon, if Patrick and Charles and Colonel Houston had the right of it; but something he was sure as creation proud to be a part of. Proud, and rich, and infamous, too; but even without the fine linen, the office, the big house, and the rallying cry his name had become for the Iron Battalion in the Battle of Algiers, the pride in being a part of this new chiefdom-based experiment in democracy would remain. Chance had brought him to that first meeting, and stirred the waters not a fair few times since; but like nearly all of his new chosen countrymen, he'd seized the opportunities he'd been given and made his fate his own, come what may.

The polished surface under his hand had begun to warm from the heat of his skin. Henry sighed, shaking off the woolgathering he'd fallen into, and smiled down into the blurred reflection that looked back up at him. Then he turned and walked back out of the office, placing his heavy feet with deliberate care so as not to disturb any of the half-finished interior construction in the rest of the bank. Just a week or two more, and he'd be presiding over an institution he fully intended to see the equal-- or better-- of any back in Washington.

He was mightily looking forward to the challenge.


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