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.
2. Panther Eyes
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Over the course of the next several days Little Deer and I traveled together. On the third day of our journey, I suggested taking her back to her home village. The notion was eagerly accepted by my companion . . . except she wasn't entirely sure which way to go in order to find home. It seemed her captors had keep her bound and blindfolded until they arrived at the trading post. Poor Little Deer wasn't even sure she was currently headed in the right direction.
Unfortunately, I was of little help. Before leaving Boston to come to this wild land, I'd spent considerable time studying the newly printed maps and writings of the intrepid Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. In spite of the knowledge I'd gleaned from the explorers notes and the fact that I had spent the better part of the past month in the remote place, I felt as helpless as a newborn. As a precautionary measure, I had deliberately avoided human contact and I had absolutely no idea which band of the Sioux Nation poor Little Deer belonged to, or where they might currently be encamped.
Undaunted by the fact that we were seemingly lost, we carried on. As we went, I decided to foster my companion's continuing education and took to slipping a few English words into our conversation. This was quite deliberate on my part, but I played the innocent each time. While I absolutely did not agree with her former husband's teaching methods, I did feel that learning English would be an asset to the girl.
By our fourth night on the road, we had relaxed into a comfortable routine. Little Deer gathered the firewood and made a bed for herself while I hunted. I made sure I took a deer or elk each time I went out in order to state my need as being so near to my human traveling companion inflamed my thirst. When I returned to camp, I would make a fire while she cleaned and spitted the two freshly caught trout I always brought back with me.
To my amazement Little Deer never question me about what she had witnessed in the meadow or about why it was that she always ended up eating both trout and I didn't eat anything. Humans, as a general rule, were insatiably curious and my mouth literally itched to ask her about her apparent disinterest in my overtly odd nature, but I held my peace. I was rewarded for my patience when she reviled the answers to this puzzle herself without any prompting what so ever form me.
As we talked after dinner, she kept repeating the name, Panther Eyes, at odd points during our conversation. At first I thought this was someone from her village, a relative, a childhood playmate, or perhaps even a suitor. Little Deer was attractive enough for a human her age, she was very intelligent, and the daughter of a war chief surly she would have many suitors. Nothing I considered, however, prepared me for the truth when I inquired about it.
"You are Panther Eyes." She told me plainly. "Carlisle is a nice name, but hard to say and I have no sign for it. Panther Eyes fits better and I can say it in Trader Tongue."
She went on to confess that she thought I was one of the Sky People, a race of semi-deities who walked the earth in human form, but who could change into animals at will. According to her, the Sky People were the children of Thunder Man and Rain Woman.
She surmised that I had been hunting in my panther form when she came across me in the meowed and that was why I had the carcass of a dead deer in my hands. It also explained, in her mind, why I could run so fast, and why I was hard and cold to the touch. Even the brief glimpse she had gotten of me in the sunny meadow shimmering like ten thousand diamonds under the noon day sky could be explained away with her theory . . . as children of Thunder Man and Rain Woman; the Sky People were the bringers of the rainbow. This was our birthright.
"Ever Sky Being looks different, you have the golden eyes of a panther, the great cat who stalks on silent feet, so that must be what you are when you are not a man."
I wasn't entirely sure what prompted her uneasiness, but after her bold confession she looked down at her feet nervously and began to tremble. I hoped it wasn't my reaction; I had endeavored to maintain a calm even expression while she spoke. When she looked up again her eyes were full of wonder, and just a hint of fear.
"I do not mean to offend," her lips twitched sadly as she mouthed silently what her hands repeated. "If you wish me to call you Carlisle, I will."
I smiled as I reached for and took her hand, stopping it in mid gesture. "No. Panther Eyes will do fine; I am honored to be called so." In that moment, nothing would have pleased me more that to have her call me by that venerable name from now until forever.
"Will you tell me something?" she asked shyly, the movement of her hands mirrored the hesitance inside her.
"If I can," I replied honestly.
"The Sky People only come to help those with great power, those who are destine to aid the People in some way," her expression twisted as she carefully considered her words. "Why are you helping me, I have no power, I'm no one, everyone says so."
"Everyone, Little Deer, or just Sweet Grass and that beast who called himself your husband," I questioned gently. I hated it that she thought so little of herself, why couldn't she see just how truly remarkable she was? "What did Red Pony have to say, or Ground Squirrel?"
"They loved me, and always said I was . . . special."
"Do you doubt them?"
I watched as she shook her head.
"What am I destined to do then?"She asked in response. "How will I help the People?"
‘Now you've gone and done it, oh mighty and omniscient Sky Being,' my inner voice mocked in the derogatory tone my father always used. ‘What are you going to tell her?'
I pushed the scolding voice into the deepest recess of my mind in order to focus on trying to concoct an answer, but nothing seemed appropriate. Finally I settled on the truth.
"That I cannot tell you, Little Deer, your destiny is known only to the Creator." I answered simply and then insisted that it was time she went to bed.
A week and a half past very quickly until, late one afternoon, Little Deer recognized the river that we came too. Once across the narrow ribbon of water, it was another two days walk to her village. I was both relieved and sad. While I wanted to get Little Deer home safely, I knew that I would surly miss her company.
As I watched my human companion sleep on our final night camped together, I thought about all the loneliness I had endured since awakening to this hellish life. In my travels through Europe, I had hoped to find others that lived my lifestyle, but alas I found none. My brief stay with the Volturi had brought me a short respite from my solitude. While Aro and his brothers treated me kindly, as an honored guest, I soon grew weary of being looked upon as an oddity. Their well meaning efforts to ‘cure me' of my aversion to human blood finally caused me to politely take my leave.
Aro, of the Volturi, had suggested I find myself a mate. He was happily married to Sulpicia and I admired the deep abiding love that I saw in their relationship. Finding a mate seemed like sound advice, but in my wanderings I had found no female vampire that suited me. My only solace, the only thing that made my life even remotely bearable was my work. The fleeting social contact I had with my human patients kept the shadow of utter despair at bay, but like the animal blood I drank to survive, it didn't quite fully satisfy my needs.
The time I'd spent in Little Deer's company had only served to underscore my growing need for something more. I enjoyed my conversations with her, listening to her imaginative stories, and just knowing that she would be there, waiting for me, when I returned to our campsite. In short, my time spent with this amazing young lady shined a brilliant light on the lynch pin that was missing from my life, the thing I wanted more than anything . . . a family.
When we broke camp the next morning, I noticed Little Deer was very quiet. Throughout our journey she had entertained me with all manner of stories. I remembered thinking that for someone who couldn't speak, she talked an awful lot. Now she was withdrawn and sullen.
Maybe she's afraid, I thought. Perhaps she's unsure of how her family will react to her return. I couldn't really understand why. What I desired, more than anything on earth, was a family and I could only imagined that if I stood in Red Pony's place, and my missing daughter was suddenly restored to me, I would be overjoyed. I called to mind the father from the biblical story of the prodigal son; his welcoming gestures would pale in comparison to my own. My joy would be a thousand fold to have a missing son or daughter brought back to me. Then the notion of Sweet Grass entered my mind and my thoughts turned sour, what sort of new torment would her step-mother invent for her.
‘Perhaps it's something else.' my inner voice purred. ‘Has it occurred to you that she has come to like you, and is contemplating missing your company . . . just as you will surely miss hers?'
I dismissed the thought; the human memory was ephemeral, in a few short years I would be little more than a ghost . . . if she remembered me at all. I, on the other hand, would never forget her, a millennium from now her glowing face and shimmering jade eyes would still be as clear in my memory as if she were standing before me.
At mid-day, we stopped. The village was very close now and I felt comfortable that Little Deer could complete the journey on her own. This was just as good a time and place to say good-by as any. I was totally unprepared for the sudden rush of pain I felt at having to part company with my new companion.
‘It's for the bestCullen.' I reminded myself. ‘She's human and you're not. She needs her own kind.'
At first she shot me a questioning look, but then as realization set in, sadness filled her eyes. I wanted to say something that would ease her pain, as it was apparent to me now that my inner voice had been right. ‘Ephemeral,' I reminded myself again, ‘likesmoke from a dying campfire,' I would soon fade from her recollection.
"I've enjoyed your company Little Deer," I tried to sound comforting, but I was having little success. ‘And Ishall never forget you.' I added to mentally because it was the truth.
She forced a small sad smile and nodded.
"It's not much further to your home; you should be able to make it with no trouble." My words didn't make either of us feel any better. "I would ask a favor of you, please don't mention your encounter with me . . . to anyone. I can't stress this enough, it would be dangerous for both of us if you did." Then I paused, thought of Aro, and added. "It would make Thunder Man very angry."
Again she nodded and then she did something unexpected . . . she through her arms around my middle and hugged me. In a very uncharacteristic gesture, I returned her embrace before setting her on her way alone. I watched her walk towards the horizon for a time and then I turned and made my own way towards the east.
I walked until nightfall; the thick canopy of trees had hid me from the sun all afternoon. I strolled at human speed, excusing this to myself as a precaution in case anyone from Little Deer's village might be about. When the sky was dark and the sea of stars came out, I settled under a sycamore tree and studied the constellations. I remained there all night studying the stars, watching the silver moon as it marched across the sky, and reflecting on my life to date.
When morning came I tried to prod myself into moving, but I found that I just couldn't seem to do it. For reasons I couldn't comprehend, I didn't have the heart to leave the spot I was in. Every time I went to get up, the very earth upon which I sat seemed to pull me back down. It was as if I had become anchored to the spot. I passed the day under the tree, filling several pages of my worn sketchbook with renderings of the remarkable young woman I'd been so privileged to meet and sojourn with.
When night came again I continued my meditative studies of the heavens. In the small hours of the morning, when the moon was at its zenith, my predatory ears caught the distant sound of something crashing through the underbrush. I smiled wickedly to myself; tonight my meal would come to me. When the breeze stirred I inhaled deeply, expecting the musky scent of deer to fill my nose. What I smelled instead made me groan with exasperation, it was the scent of a human . . . one human in particular to be precise, Little Deer.
I instantly wondered if I'd made the right decision in sparing her life. She needed to get over me, and the sooner the better, I though angrily. As I started to get up and run off into the night, the breeze picked up again and the coppery back note of blood accompanied Little Deer's scent. Irritation was quickly replaced with concern and instead of running away I went looking for her.
It didn't take long to locate the frail human girl. She had collapsed in a heap on the forest floor less than a mile from the sycamore tree. The smell of blood wafting off of her was almost intolerable, even for me. I approached her still form and slowly turned her over. What I saw made me growl with anger.
Her face was bruised and swollen, dried blood caked her forehead and hair. Her left arm was obviously broken, and with each breath I could hear the tell tale sign of cracked ribs --- at least two of them. In spite of her injuries, however, her heartbeat was strong, a burning beacon of her courage.
I was about to begin a closer examination of her facial injuries, when the sound of men shouting and hounds baying filled my sensitive ears. Little Deer's pursuers were very close and would be upon us soon. As gently as I could, and minding her injuries, I scooped Little Deer into my arms. Before long we were racing at top speed through the dark forest. I intended to put as much distance as possible between us and those individuals who did this. I wanted answers, and just as soon as she was conscious again and able to talk, I would question her about this.
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