This week’s Tuesday Tales prompt was Thanksgiving or thankful. I took that quite literally, folks….
We Gather Together
by Alexandra Christian
Temperance sat on the edge of the bay, looking out over the November sunset. She thought about all the ways in which her life had changed since coming to this strange new land nearly a year ago. Her mother and father had decided in the summer of her eighteenth year, after losing their land to the tyranny of King James, that they would begin again in the wilds of this New World. She’d been so afraid of what she would find. She had heard such stories in England– wild animals that would maul you in the night and savages that would slash your throat for being the ‘pale-face.’ And for a while, she’d believed them. The first few months were harrowing. No food, disease, people dying– it was like some awful dream from which she could not wake. And then the ultimate test of her faith– the fever took her dear mother’s life last winter, leaving her alone in this place. Temperance thought she would never again smile or laugh. Then she met Anoki.
She was sitting at the makeshift cemetery they’d put up, just after her mother’s funeral. There hadn’t been much to say, only a short prayer and then back to work, but her father had been kind enough to let her sit for a moment. Everyone had gone back to the meetinghouse and it was only her, staring at the mound of soil on which she sat, a single handkerchief in hand. Her mother had embroidered it for her long ago, before the New World had even been a thought. She had been using it to dab at her eyes when she saw movement in the forest at the edge of the grove. Her heart hitched in her chest and she held her breath, waiting to see if it would happen again. She sat very still, hoping that whatever it was wouldn’t see her. She stood up slowly and backed away, her blue eyes never leaving the edge of the clearing. She listened again and just as she was telling herself it was only a gale of wind, she heard a branch break, as if stepped on. Whipping around, she started to run back towards the meetinghouse, praying that whatever was behind wouldn’t give chase. Her bonnet flew back behind her in the breeze until finally it flew off. She didn’t care. She wouldn’t allow herself to be devoured by animals or scalped and left for dead. Her mother wouldn’t die in vain. She had to survive!
Distraught and terrified, Temperance swerved into the forest, taking a shortcut she’d learned from some of the village children. The terrain here was mucky and strewn with fallen branches. She looked behind, and sighed with relief. There was nothing there. No monster, chasing her in the dim twilight. Her pace slowed and she stumbled, catching the edge of her skirt on the tip of her shoe. She pitched forward, throwing herself into the muddy leaves collected on the ground. The shock of the impact brought the tears she’d been holding back all day. She lay there in the mud, tears streaming down her face and blurring her vision to everything around her. Even the frozen ground of the early winter frost could not bring her out of her swoon. She cried for her mother and her lost life in England. She cried for all the others, lost in their journey for freedom. She cried for the guilt she felt in feeling that God had forsaken her. She cried for the certainty that she was indeed wicked and devoid of Grace. After several minutes, she pulled herself together, her head aching and her eyes burning. She reached into her apron, searching out her mother’s embroidered handkerchief and finding nothing. “No, please… please… it’s all I have left,” she gasped, determined not to shed one more tear. Temperance crawled along the ground, feeling for the rough bit of lace, as if her eyes could not be trusted.
“Kwe.” It was a sound that made Temperance’s blood run cold as ice. The strange tongue of the savages. She turned slowly to see a tall, dark skinned man standing over her. He extended his hand and stared at her with expectant brown eyes. “Kwe,” he said again in that stern, unattached voice that seemed to echo in the dark forest around them.
“I’m sorry…” she stuttered. “I didn’t know you were here.” She tried to stand up, but apparently the fall had weakened her ankle and she fell back down. “Ow…” she whimpered, cursing herself for showing such girlish weakness.
“Kwe,” he said again and she wanted to scream for him to stop. Couldn’t he see that she didn’t understand?
“I… I don’t understand you…” she replied, her voice trembling. He started towards her and she cowered, another small sob escaping her throat. “Please don’t…” Her voice trailed off as her eyes focused on what he held in his outstretched hand. It was her handkerchief with the bit of white lace and the blue embroidery. Her mother’s handkerchief that she’d thought she’d lost. She dropped it and this savage had brought it back to her.
“Kwe,” he said again. And this time he smiled.
It had been nearly a year since that day and now, as Temperance sat on the rock overlooking the bay, it seemed as if her life had not begun until the day Anoki had spoken that single word. That single word that had gone straight to her heart. Looking over her shoulder, she stared at the fires burning in the village behind, sending smoke plumes over the trees. Soon the feast would begin and her people and Anoki’s people would gather together as one to give thanks for their friendship and their bounty. No one would miss them as they paddled away on the sea together. Perhaps someday, they would understand the decision she made now. Taking the handkerchief out of her apron, she pressed it to her lips, kissing the soft lace and inhaling the scent of her mother that still clung to it after all this time. Dropping it on the ground, she said goodbye. She would miss them, but she must follow her heart to the ends of the earth.
If you enjoyed MY post, wait til you see the rest of the Tuesday Tales crew.