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Chapter One
Georgia, 1864

W hen house slave Sable Fontaine was growing up in the mansion that was her home, it had taken fifteen male slaves to care for the rolling green lawns surrounding the estate. Under the watchful eye of the head gardener, an equal number of young slaves had trimmed the trees and sculpted the shrubs. They'd planted lush, fragrant flowers every spring, adding color and beauty to the genteel, pastoral surroundings, and every year the sprawling white house had been freshly painted so that its stately columns anchoring the wide front porch stood like monuments gleaming in the Georgia sun.

Now the Fontaine lawns and gardens were overgrown with weeds. No one had trimmed the shrubs or trees in three seasons, and the lush flowers hadn't been planted for years. The house hadn't been painted either, and it gleamed no more. Because of Mr. Lincoln's war, no slaves could be spared to perform such inconsequential tasks. Everyone was too bent upon survival.

When the conflict began, no one imagined the war would drag on for years or that families in the South would be reduced to living no better than their slaves. The thought that there would be food riots in Charleston and Mobile, or that the Southern way of life would be destroyed, had been unthinkable. The South's sons and fathers rode off to war in 1861 filled with the pride and arrogance of their class. It was now 1864, and the prideful and the arrogant were deserting in staggering numbers, weary of fighting, starving, and dying. Adding to the turmoil were huge numbers of escaping slaves--men, women, and children who weren't waiting for the yoke of enslavement to be officially lifted. They were slipping away all over the south, many attaching themselves to the advancing Union troops. Sable's great-aunt Mahti said you could smell freedom in the air.

For Sable, though, the long anticipated, sweet scent of freedom had become fouled. Even as the marauding Yankees marched deeper and deeper into the heartland, tearing up the railroads and forcing families to flee, the buying and selling of slaves continued. Yesterday, she'd been sold too.

Some would say a twenty-nine year old female slave should be flattered to fetch the comely sum of eight hundred dollars, especially with war on, but Sable felt no such pride. The buyer, a man named Henry Morse, would not treat her well.

Sable's mistress, Sally Ann Fontaine, had announced the sale at supper last evening. Sable had stared at her in disbelief. Her anger flared as she held Sally's triumphant eyes, but Sable knew her feelings would make no difference. In the end only numbness remained, a numbness that gripped her still.

Now, watching the sun set, Sable stood on the wide front porch contemplating her future. She felt someone step out onto the porch behind her and knew without turning that it was Mavis.

"How are you, little sister?" Mavis asked softly.

In spite of Sable's mood, the salutation made her smile. The half-sisters had been born less than six minutes apart and Mavis never let Sable forget who'd drawn breath first. Sable's love for her knew no bounds, but contemplating Mavis's query made the numbness re- I turn. "As well as can be expected, I suppose. How about you?"

Sable turned and peered into the face that in many ways mirrored her own. Mavis's brown eyes were red-rimmed and swollen as she confessed, "I can't stop crying."

Sable turned away. She ached too but knew tears were a waste of time; they would not alter her fate.

Mavis announced bitterly, "I told Mama I'll never speak to her again if she goes through with the sale, but she won't change her mind."

Sable didn't expect Sally Ann to relent. The mistress of the household had never hidden her dislike for Sable, mostly because of what the bronze-skinned, green-eyed Sable represented. Sable's mother, a slave woman named Azelia, had given birth to Sable six minutes after Sally Ann gave birth to Mavis. Both baby girls had been " fathered by Sally Ann's husband, Carson Fontaine, just as he'd fathered Sable's older brother Rhine and Mavis's brother Andrew, two years earlier.

Mavis interrupted Sable's thoughts. "I'll help however I can."

Sable knew she would. Though society forced the two women to walk in different worlds-making one mistress and the other slave-they'd shared everything all their lives. When Mavis had lost her beloved husband, Sanford, six months into the war, Sable had held her while she cried.

Mavis stepped around to look into Sable's eyes, "I know you're thinking of running, but there must be another way. The roads aren't safe."

"Safer than having Henry Morse as a master?" Sable retorted.

Rumors surrounding Morse's treatment of his female slaves linked him to at least two mysterious deaths that had taken place last year. The local constabulary had eventually charged a young male slave on a neighboring