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.
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The snows continued to come on and off with surprising regularity. Soon the land around our home was covered in drifts that came well above my knees. At night the cold wind howled through the meadow making whirring noises as it whistled through the brush that surrounded our house. Safe inside the squat cabin, however, Little Deer and I were cozy and warm.
It wasn't long before my companion's injuries healed enough for her to be ambulatory again. Her liberty brought with it a new sense of frustration, she was restless and board. While I continued to provide fresh meat for her, I took to letting her prepare her own meals in order to give her something to do. When she asked for a pair of deer hides, an awl, and sinew for sewing I eagerly pilfered these items along with some glass beads, thread, and steel needles from Savoy's trade goods.
During her recuperation I finally put to rest the question of what I would do with her. In the spring, when it was safe to travel once again, I would take her eastward with me. We would venture to the very fringes of civilization; close enough for me to find work as a doctor and far enough away for Little Deer to be comfortable.
There I would purchase some land and build us a modest house. I would stay in the area for a time, practicing medicine, and establishing myself in the minds of the locals as her relative. Though we looked nothing alike, I was determined to pass myself off as her older brother. This was how I naturally saw myself in relation to her anyway and I couldn't bring myself to be anything less.
Eventually, my eternal youth would necessitate my leaving, but by then I hoped Little Deer would be settled in. I would visit her as often as my work would allow me to, and she would never want for anything as I was determined to fully support her all the days of her life. It wasn't a perfect plan by any means, but it was workable.
Of course, I hadn't told her any of this.
To those ends, I began the slow gentle process of preparing Little Deer for her new life. I didn't want this to be a shock for her, but rather I wanted it to be a smooth transition from one world into another. I continued teaching her English in my nonchalant, almost bumbling way, throwing in words and phrases here and there while we talked. To my great relief, my method worked and within a month she was using Sioux and English words interchangeable.
Now I was ready to progress to the next phase. While teaching her to speak English was a rather organic process, what I had in mind now would require a more deliberate approach. Today was the day I would broach a major topic in her education and I was more than a little nervous. I decided to wait until after dinner when we usually relaxed by the fire.
As Little Deer took up her sewing, I retrieved a book from my pack. I always carried several books when I traveled to help pass the long lonely hours of the day. While I could easily read any text at vampire speed, thus devouring it in no time at all, I preferred to read at human speed so as to savor each and every word.
I cracked open the text and settled myself on the floor in front of the hearth. Of all the ironic titles that I could have brought with me on my journey, I had managed the most ironic of them all . . . Daniel Defoe's The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures ofRobinson Crusoe.
I focused my attention on the pages before me, but I wasn't actually reading them. This was a ploy, intended to bait Little Deer's curiosity. If my plan worked, tonight I would begin teaching my companion to read . . . and eventually, to write. My efforts were soon rewarded. Little Deer patted her leg with her palm and cleared her throat, an indication she wanted my attention. I looked up from my book and smiled warmly at her.
"Is everything alright, child?" I asked sheepishly. "Are you cold, shall I get your shawl for you?"
She shook her head and pointed to the book in my lap. "What is that?" She mouthed in English.
She had taken the bait; now all I had to do was set the hook and haul her in.
"This," I held up the volume and tried to look as innocent as possible. She nodded in answer and I smiled "It's a book, my child, have you never seen one before?"
Her eyes were wide with wonder as she shook her head again. Her expression made me chuckle, I couldn't help it. I patted the floor beside me, inviting her to come and sit next to me. She put down her sewing and cautiously crept over to take her seat.
"For heaves sake, it's not a serpent, it won't bite you," I assured her. I found watching her stalk the unwary novel that lay open in my lap in the same manor that I might stalk a deer highly amusing. I did my best to refrain from laughing at her this time.
She cuddled up close beside me and took hold of my elbow with her two small hands. Then she peered past my arm at the pages making sure to keep some part of me between her and the book. She behaved as though she thought the strange cryptic words might launch themselves off the paper and seize her by the throat. When she looked up at me her forehead was crinkled in such a way that her eyebrows knotted together in a single dark line.
"Magic," she mouthed in Sioux, "Shaman's signs."
"Not magic, Little Deer," I replied gently as I looked into her eyes, "Knowledge. Would you like me to teach you what all this means?" I asked, gesturing with the book so she would know what I meant, "Would you like me to teach you . . . to read?"
"I could never learn all that." She pointed at the pages. "I'm not cleaver enough."
"Nonsense, you're very cleaver, and I'll prove it to you." As I told her this, I took a stick from the kindling pile and set the end of it in the fire. When I judged it had charred sufficiently, I withdrew it from the flames, extinguished the end of it and used it to mark the letter ‘A' on the stone hearth skirt.
"You see, there is a secret trick to learning to read," I whispered. Humans, by nature, couldn't resist knowing secret things; it was a compulsion for them. "It has to do with understanding symbols and what they stand for."
Little Deer scowled as she pointed at the ‘A', "That is a symbol, it doesn't looklike any symbol I have ever seen?" then she frowned. "I told you I wasn't very cleaver."
If only she knew just how wrong she was. "Is that so? Well maybe you will recognize this symbol," I drew three wavy lines one on top of the other. "What do you think that one means?"
I watched a broad grin spread across her face. "Everybody know that one, it means water."
"Quite right, that's very good," I encouraged her, "Now how about this one?" I drew a circle with lines for rays of light, coming off all around it.
Her grin became a giggle. "The sun," she answered triumphantly.
Wordlessly I drew a crescent shape which she instantly identified as the moon. Then I added a stick figure that she recognized as a man. I could have gone on all night drawing glyphs for her, but it was time to make my point.
"Do you know what you just demonstrated for me Little Deer?" I asked quietly. She shook her head. "Well then, I'll tell you. You have just shown me that not only are you very cleaver, but that you also know how to read."
She shook her head vehemently, "I don't know what that is," she insisted pointing to the ‘A', "And there it is again in your . . . b o o k."
While she didn't know it, making the association between the letter that I scrawled in charcoal on the hearth skirt and the letter as it appeared in print was a huge leap.
"You don't know what that symbol means," I pointed to the ‘A', "Because I haven't told you yet. It is the letter A."
Her face twisted in confusion as she stared at the letter, then she turned her questioning gaze back to me. She wasn't getting my meaning, and I instantly knew why. Explaining it would be complex, but I was confident she could grasp it.
"Not all symbols stand for things we can see and touch, Little Deer." I explained gently. "Unlike this," I tapped the drawing of the man with the end of my stick. "The ‘A' represents a sound, not a thing."
The look she gave me was doubtful, but she nodded anyway.
I raced through the snow shrouded forest following the scent of a large buck. I decided to hunt close to the house tonight, my companion and I stayed up much later than I intended. I didn't wish dawn's lovely caress to catch me before I could return to the cabin.
By the time I tucked her into bed for the night, Little Deer had learned the first seven letters of the alphabet as well as a few short words using those letters. Needless to say, I was very pleased. Before packing her off to bed I had her sit close to me while I read a portion of the first chapter of Robinson Crusoe to her. I traced my finger under each word so that she could follow along. My own father never took time to read to me. In the few faint recollections I had of my governess, I remembered her using the same technique to help me learn. Those were some of my happier memories.
To teach Little Deer to read would take time and effort, but we had a whole snow bound winter ahead of us. I was in no particular hurry. Aside from a few menial chores, there was little else to fill the endless hours.
In fact, her initial performance at her lessons sparked a level of enthusiasm in me that I hadn't known since I began my own study of medicine. Little Deer was indeed very bright, and there was no reason she couldn't learn more. There was so much I could teach her. Once she mastered reading and writing, there was history, literature, philosophy, science, and mathematics. A whole world of knowledge awaited her; I could give the girl an education that would put graduates of Oxford and Yael to shame.
"Teaching the puppy to do tricks are we, demon?" My father's voice sneered crudely in my head. "It won't change what she is, nor will it change how society sees her. You can put clothes on a dog and it's still a dog . . . you can teach the heathen to read, but at the end of the day she'll still be a heathen. You're not doing her any favors."
Social tolerance was never one of my father's strong points. Class, gender, ethnicity and, of course, religious persuasion were the four marks by which he judged everyone. Why then was I surprised that he took such exception to my companion. In spite of this, it raked at me; I rejected my father's way of viewing the world a long time ago. While he sought perfection in the grand social order, I realized that perfection was both unattainable and unnatural. I soon found that the true beauty of Creation lay in the thing my father labeled as its imperfections; its greatest strength was its diversity.
"Enough!" I shouted as a came to a stop in the middle of the empty forest. My words echoed off the trees, filling the moonless night. "You were a sorry excuse for a father in life and you're an even sorrier excuse for one in death.
"You treated me as a loathsome disgusting creature from the very moment I drew my first breath. Even as an infant I was a disappointment to you. I was an inconvenience, a tax upon your precious time, a burden who's ungrateful mother didn't even have the decency to live long enough to see me raised properly."
The words poured from me with abandon as I pointed an accusatory finger at the star studded heavens. Never before had I allowed myself the luxury of saying these words aloud. Out of a sick sense of respect for the man who called himself my father as well as my own innate desire to maintain my self control I kept this ugly poison bottled within me. Tonight, the festering boil ruptured and I couldn't help myself.
"How dare you spew your venomous words at this girl, she has more courage and strength of character in a single strand of her hair than you had in your entire wrenched body."
"How droll, the pathetic beast is in love." Sickening delight oozed through my father's voice. If I were capable of vomiting I would have. "Or is it lust, it's difficult to tell with demons. In either case, it is an abomination in the sight of Heaven."
Rage filled me, what could my father possibly know of love. As far as I could tell, he never loved anybody. He never spoke well of my mother nor did he ever show affection for her memory. I was an utter disappointment. He was astringed from his only sister because she married below her station, for . . . of all things, love. His parents died long before I was born, but he never talked about them. Sometimes I wondered if he truly loved the god he professed to serve. Did he actually know how to love, even in an abstract sense?
"Yes," I admitted with a sigh. "I love Little Deer, but not in the lewd and licentious way you suggest. She is a baby sister to me, the cherished sibling I never had in my old life.
"And who are you to criticize me anyway? You who had, within your heedless grasp, everything to make a man happy . . . everything that I have ever wanted but am eternally denied, a child, a wife, a family. You possessed these things and yet you didn't appreciate them . . . in fact you loathed them."
It was true, the only times I ever witness the glimmer of happiness in his cold gray eyes was when he was persecuting some poor unfortunate soul whom he thought to be a witch or a devil . . . or a vampire. Did he have any idea just how many innocent people he put to the torch? The men of the Protestant faith speak ill of the Papists for their bloody Inquisition, yet my father held his very own. While it may have been a futile hope, at least the Inquisitors of the Holy Sea gave the accused a trial and the chance to appeal a decision or recant their testimony. My father gave no such quarter, either admit you guilt and burn or deny it and still burn.
"You are the cursed spawn of hell, a filthy blood drinking demon, and yet you expect God's blessing?" He mocked. "Think what you will of me beast, but I was Heaven's faithful servant and as such I was duly rewarded for that service, my blessing cup filled beyond overflow."
My ire was at the flash point, I could stomach the filthy voice no longer. "Depart from me specter, and trouble me no more!!"
My words were a beastly growl, filling the cold clear night with the heat of my rage. They reverberated off every rock, tree, and snow drift for miles and continued to ring as an echo in my ears for several minuets after I said them. When the sound of them finally died away I slumped to my knees in the snow. Though I could go on endlessly without every knowing fatigue, suddenly I felt tiered, weighted down by the worries of my mind.
"Very well demon, I will depart . . . for now, but mark my words," He whispered gravely, sounding more and more distant with each ghostly syllable. "No good can come of your association with this heathen girl."
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