Prologue to The Blood-Red Flag


Cover of The Blood-Red Flag


JANUARY 1, 1834

It was Daniel Austin’s twenty-second birthday that morning as the first dawn of a New Year leapt over the eastern horizon with a pent-up fury of a cornered lion, then scant moments later, crept timidly into his tiny Spartan room with a studied stealth of an alley cat.

He did not awaken from his restless slumber until the sun spilled its warmth across his face. Then he sat bolt upright on his hard pallet, all thoughts of sleep now gone. Suddenly he shivered as he was struck by an ominous premonition. His chest contracted in response to the icy hand that clutched his heart. Today might be the first day of his last year on earth.

Daniel heard a faint staccato sound of a flamenco guitar and realized La Fiesta del Dia de Año Nuevo was still underway. Discarding his threadbare blanket, Daniel walked to the bedchamber’s solitary window. Scraping away a small portion of ice that had accumulated on the yellowed cracked glass, he looked at the peaceful sleepy village. Apparently, the revelers in the cantina two floors below were the only ones stirring on this crisp, frosty morning.

Peering off to his right, he could just make out the sluggish waters of the Rio Medina. The sight of the river made him think about his last birthday. He had spent the majority of that day at the Hoya Club with other members of the Georgetown College senior class. That evening, he and Roxanne had dined at the Lamplighter Inn, and then strolled along the shore of the Potomac River.

It had been an unusually warm evening in Washington, and the majestic riverbank had become a lover’s lane. At least two dozen couples sauntered along wide cobblestone paths, enjoying the river’s murmur, and the soft glow from the long row of gas lamps.

Many of the twosomes they passed cast unabashed looks of envy at them. He and Roxanne were a very attractive couple, that was for sure. They were both tall and athletically slender, with dark hair and eyes, and smooth classical facial features. Most of the passing men cast admiring glances at Roxanne, while their equally interested, but coy companions, appraised her handsome escort through shy eyes.

Alas, a year that began with so much promise had dissolved into chaos a few weeks later when Daniel had asked Roxanne’s father for her hand in marriage. In a brief, very blunt meeting, Clement Mayfair had made it perfectly clear that the social strata he foresaw for his youngest daughter was much higher than any Daniel Austin might possibly reach. Only the timely arrival of his Uncle Stephen’s letter had sustained him during those miserable days of sadness and humiliation, and helped him to regain a small measure of his self-respect.

Now, as a new year began, here he was in the wilds of the Mexican province of Tejas, acting as a scribe for the leader of the American settlers. During the few months he had been in Tejas, he had learned to love the country and to admire its inhabitants. These Texicans had to carve out a hard living on this often-dangerous frontier. Perhaps that was what gave them their lust for life. Their Mexican neighbors, the Tejanos, were also admirable and industrious, devoted Catholics who seemed to be far more interested in the joy of today than in any profit tomorrow might bring. It was a different society, a different pace, a completely different world. After his disappointing final year in Washington, it was, however, a world Daniel Austin relished.

This morning, a big adventure would begin! Uncle Stephen and he were embarking upon a perilous journey to Mexico City. His uncle had been granted an audience with Mexican President Antonio Miguel Lopez de Santa Anna. His Uncle Stephen would implore Santa Anna to restore the 1824 Constitution, reinstitute trial by jury, stop the unfair customs regulations that had been imposed on 20,000 Texican-American settlers, and return an individual status to the recently combined states of Tejas and Coahuila.

He and his uncle would be traveling in a heavily armed wagon train to Mexico City, the Mexican capital, which was more than 300 leagues to the south. The combined strength of the wagon train travelers and a squad of Mexican Lancers would protect them from the frontier dangers: scores of murderous banditos, as well as hordes of prowling Comanches and fierce Apaches.

He realized that far greater danger might await them when they reached Mexico City. General Santa Anna was famous for punishing people who displeased him by sentencing them to prison, or worse, by executing them. Daniel could almost feel bullets thudding into his chest from a firing squad, or imagined his body crumpling at the foot of a blood-spattered adobe wall. He shuddered as he turned away from the window. “Well,” he thought, “I came to Texas to seek adventure. I have a hunch I may find far more excitement than I can begin to imagine, and perhaps more trouble than I’ll be able to handle!”