Saturday, November 2, 2013

Blackbird excerpt



“How is it that you speak English?” she asked.
      He said something in his own language.  She could not understand it, but his tone was unmistakably sarcastic. 
      She pressed anyway.  “My Oneida students can speak English, but they speak it rather choppy.  Yours is quite fluent.”
      When he did not answer, she changed the subject. “Can we stop and rest for a bit?”
      “No.”
      “Why?”
      “Because I said so.”
      “Do you always order people around?”
      “Yes.”
      Suddenly angered, Katherine
g to the peaceful songs of the forest birds.  She had begun to think the Indian really had gone on without her when she saw him come back.  His glare was set in annoyance, and she wondered if he was angry enough to beat her.
      Before he had time to make up his mind, she stood, valise in hand.  “Well, I feel quite rested now.”  She walked calmly past him, refusing to meet his black glare.  “Let’s be off.”
      “We will set camp here,” he announced.  “Gather wood and make a fire.”
      Katherine dropped her valise.  Never in her life had anyone ordered her to make a fire or to do any task for that matter.  She had made plenty of fires, and she was not afraid of hard work.  She was the one who had always tended the fireplace when Mama was alive.  But she had never encountered anyone so cold and demanding.
      Except when Joshua had said he did not love her.
      Defiantly, Katherine folded her arms over her chest.  “I will not.”
      The Indian charged her so fast Katherine thought he would strike her.  His glare was cold and hateful.  His nose was hawk like, and his eyes were as black as the fast approaching night.  She stepped back.
      “You will build a fire or you will sleep cold.  Your choice.  I am tired of you.”
      “Tired of me?”  She’d had enough.  She was tired, filthy, and hungry.  She was not going to take anymore from this vile excuse for a human being.  “Let me tell you who’s tired of whom.  I have been trying to be civil to you since I met you.  I am exhausted from trying to keep up with you.  I have to carry this heavy bag over rocks and trees and brush.  You won’t slow down, and you won’t lift a finger to help me.  You haven’t treated me with an ounce of respect since I met you, and you’re tired of me!  Let me tell you something, Mr.--”
      Katherine stopped.  It suddenly dawned on her that she did not even know his name.  “What do you call yourself, anyway?”
      “Adahya.”
      “Excuse me?”
      The Indian stepped back.  “My name is Adahya.”
      “What kind of name is that?”
      “It is an Algonquin name.  My mother was Algonquin, but she was adopted by the Ganeagaono.  I am of the Turtle Clan.”
      Katherine was silent for a moment.  “Adahya,” she repeated, rolling the strange sound over her tongue.  “What does it mean?”
      Lives in the woods.”
      “What kind of name is that?”
      He turned his back to her and muttered something she could not understand.
      “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to offend you.  I just don’t understand why your mother--Do you live in the woods?”
      He flashed a look of annoyance.  Leaning his musket against a tree, he removed a quilled possible bag from his shoulder.  He sat down and rummaged through it as if she were not even there.
      Night closed in rapidly on the forest.  The sounds of birds and small animals suddenly seemed very loud.  Katherine had never spent a night without shelter, and the thought of doing so now with this man and a complete stranger suddenly unnerved her.
      They had walked all day, but he had not attacked her--yet.  He probably hated her and certainly would have brought harm to her already if that had been his intention.
      Somewhat relieved, she thought of building a fire after all and began gathering firewood.  She scurried over fallen logs, picking up small twigs and branches.  She kept him in her sight at all times.  He was eating some jerky which he had taken from his bag.  Katherine’s stomach growled.  She had not eaten since morning.  Did he intend to feed her?  Maybe he was waiting for her to ask. That was something she most certainly would not do.
      A bundle of wood in her arms, she dropped them beside the Indian and began arranging them in a small bundle:  leaves first, some dry moss, and small twigs last.
      He was watching with unusual interest.  Was it approval in his eyes?  A hint of a grin crossed her face.  She motioned to his satchel.  “Do you have flint in there?”
      Wordlessly, he withdrew the flint from his bag.  He watched her as she struck the flint and the tinder began to smolder.  She decided that she did not care if he was listening to her or not and began talking just to offset the silence of the approaching dusk.  “My name is Katherine St. James.  I don’t expect you to care, but I am telling you anyway because it is the proper thing to do.  My mother, God rest her soul, raised me to be better than that.”
      The tinder spark danced with the dried moss, and Katherine blew air to feed the flame.  “There.  That’s better.”
      “What does it mean?”
      He was staring intently at her work on the fire.  “Pardon?”
      “Your name.”
      Katherine shrugged.
      “It must mean something.”  He was looking at her now.
      “It’s just a name.”  She pondered what he had said.  “I suppose my mother just liked the way it sounded.”
      He grunted.
      “What is that supposed to mean?”
      He looked at her as if he expected horns to sprout from her forehead.  “White eyes make no sense.  You cannot have a name and have it not mean something.  You can like the sound of a bird in the forest or a river flowing, but you would not name someone after the sound.  You’re name must mean something.”
      “Well if my name means something, I have no idea what it is.”
      “As I said, you make no sense.”

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