The Ransom of Little Deer
Billy Black and his father were not the first Native Peoples that Carlisle had come in contact with since coming to America. That noble honor belonged to Little Deer, and he would never forget her . . . or her courage.
This story is told from Carlisle's POV so there are no notations. You're in his head always.
1. Tragic Circumstances
Rating 3.5/5 Word Count 3122 Review this Chapter
Somewhere deep in the recently acquired Louisiana Purchas, near what would today be northern Nebraska or southern South Dakota.
I raised my head from the neck of the buck that I'd just drained and ran my tongue along my upper lips, licking away the last reaming drops of the animal's blood. I savored the last salty, slightly coppery flavor of the buck's essence. While it eased the fierce eternal burning in my throat, the relief was only partial and temporary.
The wide open spaces and plentiful game had been just the respite I had needed. Living among humans was the source of both my greatest joy in my life as well as my greatest challenge. Soon I would return to what passed for the civilized world in this fledgling country. Back to the cities, back to my work as a doctor, back to my lonely façade of humanity.
I lowered the lifeless carcass to the grassy earth beside me and prepared to bury it. Suddenly a strangely familiar scent ticked my nose causing me to curse softly. I looked up and turned my face into the faint breeze. She was quick, and I only caught the briefest glimpse of her fleeing form as she dashed back into the shelter of the trees. Humans were exceedingly rare in this remote wilderness and that fact had lulled me into a false sense of security, had I been more careful, I wouldn't be faced with the grim task now at hand.
After hurriedly disposing of the remains of my meal, I started after the human female. Her scent made her easy enough to track and my inhuman speed made catching up to her even easier. Before she realized it, I was in front of her. She slammed, full speed, into the rock hard wall of my body and careened backwards.
I watched sadly as she sprawled onto her back in the soft ferns at my feet. She gazed up at me with wide eyes full of fear and a hint of confusion. By the look of her, I surmised that she was very young, a child really perhaps no more than fifteen at the most. This fact saddened me even more, because of my carelessness, she would never see adulthood.
My judicious eye continued to move over her, appraising her as she trembled at my feet. She appeared to be Native; the soft doeskin dress she wore was common to the tribes in the area. On closer inspection however I realized something was amiss. Her eyes were jade green, not brown as they should be, and her skin, where it peeked from deeper beneath the sleeve of her dress, was several shades lighter than the costmary coppery bronze. Her hair was the final clue; it was a dull mouse brown instead of raven's wing black.
The girl before me was a captive, obviously of European descent. I shook my head in grief, her already tragic life was about to come to an even more tragic end. Her death would be as quick and painless as I could possibly make it, I promised myself as I moved closer to her . . . positioning myself for the kill. I would not cause her to suffer.
"What's your name, young one?" I whispered softly, trying to keep her calm so that she wouldn't run. I didn't want to have to chase her again.
I was about to kill an innocent child, an act I abhorred, the least I could do was know her name before I dispatched her. She didn't answer me, but gave me a queer look instead. I moaned softly and silently cursed myself a second time. I'd spoken in English and she obviously didn't understand. How young had she been when she was taken, I wondered. Swiftly I ran my mind through the local Native dialects, deciding to try Sioux.
"What's your name, young one?" I asked again.
Her eyes lit with recognition, but still she didn't answer . . . at least not verbally. What she did next startled me. Her delicate hands moved lightly and with practiced confidence as she made a series of gestures. I watched her lips move soundlessly as she mouthed the accompanying words to herself.
I frowned; obviously she knew and understood Sioux because she was moving her mouth in tune with the gestures of the Trader's Tongue, a form of sign language used to communicate between traders from different tribes.
Piecing the two together I learned her name was Little Deer.
"How old are you, Little Deer?" I asked gently as he edged closer to her, her starling method of answer had caused me to take a couple of steps backwards.
A thoughtful look twisted her face before she finally signed her answer, fifteen winters. I was right about her age and my gut churned in protest at what I was contemplating doing, yet it was necessary. I would have to live with my atrocious crime for all eternity.
Before I could follow up on my intentions, curiosity stepped in and yet another question bubbled its way to my mouth. "Why are you out here all alone?"
It was several days walk at human speed to the nearest Native settlement. I watched as she looked down at her travel worn moccasins and shook her head. It was then that I noticed her dress was dirty and had holes in it. Her mouse brown hair was dull and looked as though it hadn't seen a comb in a very long time. Little Deer wasn't particularly well kept, and this fact made me wonder if someone might be ill treating her. I suppressed an irritated growl, it the lowest form of human filth that abused children.
‘And your about to join their number,' my inner voice chided, I pushed the voice aside and returned my focus to Little Dear. I loathed that voice, not because it spoke truth to me, but because it sounded like my father.
"You can tell me, I'll keep your secret." I coaxed when I had my composure again.
Her hands were a firestorm of movement and her lips moved just as quickly as she related her story. I settled into the soft ferns to listen.
~ ~ ~ ~
Her father was a war chief named Red Pony and her mother, Ground Squirrel, was his first wife. Little Deer was taken from her birth family when she was five and adopted by her parents to replace a daughter of the same age lost to a fever. The three of them were very happy together until Red Pony took a second wife, Sweet Grass.
Her father's second wife soon conceived a child, a son, whom Little Deer loved as a brother. Her father doted on both his children but Sweet Grass was eaten up with jealousy. She wanted Red Pony to send Little Deer away in favor of her son. When her father refused Sweet Grass became angry and vengeful. Not long after that, Ground Squirrel died mysteriously after a feast. This left Little Deer in the keeping of her second mother.
Sweet Grass was a woman of wants; she wanted everything that the roving traders brought to the village. Her father, seeking to please his young wife, indulged her desires. This went on until there was nothing left of her father's wealth. Then one day a group of fur traders came through trading guns, steel knives, axes, whisky and other things for pelts.
Sweet Grass's eye was caught by a bolt of read cloth and a small hand mirror. Gleefully she went to tell her husband. Red Pony had nothing of value to trade and he tried to explain this to his wife. She would hear none of it and went back the traders to work out a deal on her own.
Eventually Sweet Grass convinced the leader of the traders to take Little Deer in trade for the items she desired. Thus began the worst part of her young life. She was knocked in the head and spirited away in the night. When she woke, she was bound and gagged and tied like a sack of grain across the back of a horse.
The leader of the trade group, a worthless man named Jack Savoy, decided to keep Little Deer and live with her as a wife. Her misery was compounded when they reached the remote trading post that her ‘husband' owned. Here she was treated as little better that a slave.
A brutal year went by until one night Jack came home more inebriated than usually. In his drunken state he attempted to beat Little Deer for some frivolous infraction and in the process he fell and struck his head against the corner of the fireplace mantel. He was dead before he hit the ground. Fearing the others would accuse her of murder; Little Deer fled into the night, and had been running ever since. Her emancipation was now three weeks old.
~ ~ ~ ~
Her hands went still then as she fixed me with her wide green eyes. She was waiting for a response. I was still processing the story; it was an incredible tale of hardship and courage for one so young. Admiration for the girl washed through me and I couldn't help but smile. My smile was soon replaced by a frown again, her courage only made the inevitable more difficult for me.
Curiosity came to my rescue once more. "Forgive me, but why do you use the Trader's Tongue? You seem to understand my words; will you not answer me in words? I would love to hear you speak."
Her sad green eyes drifted once more toward her feet and she would not answer me, except with her silent tears. Unsure what I should do, I scooted over closer and gently patted her back. I fought back my unusually strong urge to embrace her. I'd never felt the urge quite like this before and I found it very unnerving.
"Don't cry, Little Deer, I only wanted to know why you don't speak." I soothed. "If you don't wish to tell me, you don't have too."
When she was calm again she looked up to meet my gaze. Her face was swollen and deep sadness still rested in the jade depths of her eyes. She took a jagged breath and then slowly, tentatively, she opened her mouth.
I was aghast at the sight her open mouth reviled and my dead heart turned to ice even as my stomach rolled. There, in the center of her mouth, was an empty space where the poor girl's tongue should have been. Someone had viciously cut it out. She clamped her mouth shut quickly and began sobbing again.
This time I didn't fight my urges, I took my blanket from the bed roll that I carried for appearances sake and draped it around Little Deer's hunched shoulders. Then I settled beside her and wrapped my arm around her. She cried for what seemed like hours until she fell asleep in my arms.
* * * *
The sun had long set as I watched Little Deer began to stir towards wakefulness. I had made a campfire for her, to keep the chill of the autumn night a bay, and while she slept I managed to catch a nice juicy rabbit for her supper. The rabbit was almost done to perfection and the smell of roasting meat filled the small clearing where we camped.
I sighed as I watched her turn over under the blankets. My will to kill the girl began to wane as I listened to her story. The gruesome sight of her missing tongue dispelled the possibility from my mind completely. I couldn't kill her, no matter what she might have witnessed, her suffering had earned her the right to live, grow old, and be happy.
I knew I couldn't stay with her here in the wilderness, nor could I risk bringing her back with me to civilization, but I was determined to do something for her, even if this simply meant seeing her back safely to her people. The thought of abandoning her out her out here was unacceptably to me. I would do my best for this remarkably brave young girl.
"Little Deer," I murmured her name softly in Sioux.
Her green eyes opened slowly and she smiled at me from across the fire. Warm familial feeling coursed through me, feelings I thought surely almost two century as a vampire would have snuffed out altogether. I suspected this would be what I might feel if I were looking into the smiling face of a younger sister.
"Stop it!" I growled as I scolded myself. "Keep your wits about you man, that sort of distraction very nearly caused your undoing in the first place."
Little Deer made a questioning grunt and I looked into her eyes once more. Of course I'd spoken English, so she didn't understand what I said but I guessed she had caught my harsh tone and it alarmed her.
"Don't be afraid," I soothed. "I sometimes talk to myself." It was true, most of the time I was the only person around to talk to. A sudden wave of loneliness surged through me. I pushed this aside and moved to take the rabbit off the fire before it burned and wasn't fit to eat. "Are you hungry?"
She eyed the rabbit nervously and I heard her stomach growl. Human sings of hunger were just as obvious to me as a vampire's sings of thirst. I held the spitted hare out towards her and indicated she should take it.
After several tense moments she took the offering, but she didn't tear into it ravenously as I had expected. Instead, she delicately picked off bits of the tender flesh and then smashed the meat a few times between her thumb and forefingers before putting it in her mouth. Even then, I noted, she had a difficult time swallowing.
Mentally I kicked myself, I should have considered this. "Is there something that is easier for you to eat?" I asked as I watched her take another timid bite.
She smiled and made the sign for fish. Of course I groaned, and determined that from then on she would have fresh trout whenever possible.
Once Little Deer had finished her meal and washed it down with half the water in my canteen, I decided to broach one of the topics I had been pondering while she slept.
"Little Deer, among my people I'm a healer," I began gently. "Will you let me look more closely at your mouth? I promise I will not hurt you."
She watched me as she considered my request, her green eyes searching my very soul . . . for what I couldn't fathom. I could, however, count ever emotion that danced behind her jade eyes. Finally she nodded.
I took her face lightly between my skilled hands and turned her towards the firelight. I didn't need the light to see of course, but it was a humanism that I had picked up over the years to cover what I was. I indicated that she should open her mouth and she complied, but slowly. Her shame and fear were obvious.
I tried to shush her fear away with soft whispers as I peered into the cavern of her mouth. It was unsettling to see the damage that had been done to her, and I could only guess at what other physical insults she had been forced to endure. Suddenly uncomfortable with those thoughts, I shifted my mind into clinical mode.
The stump left behind after the impromptu amputation, had healed over leaving a thick layer of scar tissue to cover the wound. By my best estimation, the injury was about five months old. Being as small as she was, I was genuinely surprised that she had survived it, as she would have bled profusely for several days.
Feeling a bit more confident, I probed the stump gingerly with my finger. Instantly she jumped.
"Does it hurt?" I asked softly.
She shook her head, no, and I was relieved, perhaps it was just the coldness of my touch that had startled her. Then, to my great dismay, she promptly nodded her head, yes. Yes or no, which was it, did she hurt or not. Then I realized what she must truly mean, it did hurt sometimes.
"I'm going to touch you again Little Deer, do not fear." I warned her soothingly, and then I probed the stump again. On my second try, I ascertained that while her injury had healed satisfactorily given the time frame, it wouldn't be completely healed for many more months. A soft, highly neutrinos diet would be very beneficial to her.
With my examination finished I released her face and moved a little ways away. "Will you tell me how this happened?" I asked gently.
She made a flurry of signs but it was her lips more than her hands that I watched as she silently mouthed the words.
"My husband was drunk, as usually, and he called himself teaching me English." She began silently. "He was irritated with how slowly I learned, Sweet Grass told him I learned fast. I was repeating English words for him when I slipped up and said the word for knife in Sioux instead. He became furious and slapped me and I fell to the floor. Then he said if I would not speak English, I would not speak at all. He grabbed me by the hair and called for his cousin Henry. Together they did this to me."
I took a deep cleansing breath and let it out slowly. Had Jack not already been dead, I would have taken great pleasure in hunting him down and finishing him off . . . the disgusting brute would beg for death in the end. A part of me wanted to go after Henry and the thought made me growl. I had often felt strongly about the plight of my human patients, but this reaction was stronger than I was accustomed too. Why was this girl having such an effect on me, I wondered?
Little Deer's startled gasp drew me from my thoughts and made me push the blood lust from my mind. ‘Remember who you are Cullen,' I chided myself, ‘you're not an animal likeJack and Henry.'
"I'm sorry Little Deer; please don't be afraid, I won't hurt you." I smiled reassuringly at her. "By the way, my name is . . . Carlisle."
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