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 howling blizzard raged outside our cabin, the blowing snow made the world beyond or front door into a deadly shroud of impenetrable white. Even with my inhuman eyesight, navigation through the white out conditions proved difficult. The storm had raged for the past day and a half with no signs of letting up. As we headed into our second night of roaring wind and bitter cold, Little Deer was showing signs of distress.
I knew from past experiences that humans didn't like storms. I'd see firsthand their reactions in the many hospitals I'd worked at over the years. Be it blizzard or thunderstorm, hurricane or nor'easter, patients inevitably became restless and edgy. The longer the bad weather hung on the more pronounced the human's nervous reaction became.
I sighed as I put another log in the hearth, out of the corner of my eye I watched Little Deer pace. I made sure to keep the fire stoked in an effort to keep the cabin and my human companion warm. When the storm first hit, the temperature dropped dramatically in just a matter of hours. Little Deer was forced to don her leggings and boots under her doeskin dress and she wrapped herself tightly in her cloak.
"Child, please relax," I begged for the tenth time that day. "The storm will pass in time, but wearing a hole in the floor boards with your nervous pacing won't facilitate matters."
She turned to face me before answering so that I could read her lips when she spoke. "I don't like this storm. Could you ask Thunder Man to make it stop?"
Yes, as one of the supposed Sky People, I was the proud son of Thunder Man. It wasn't the first time since the blizzard began that she had asked me to intercede with my divine patriarch. Little did she know just how often I did pray, my numerous silent petitions went up with regular frequency, and this in spite of being labeled a demon and the cursed spawn of hell in my internal dialogue. Fortunately, I hadn't been troubled further by my father's angry voice since the night I confronted him in the woods.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, Little Deer needed a distraction. My eye caught on the copy of Robinson Crusoe where it rested on the mantle above the fireplace. I picked up the volume and settled myself on the floor near the fire.
"Come," I invited her softly. "Let us read together, it will help take your mind off the storm."
Little Deer's lessons were coming along quite well, though she got off to a bit of a rugged start. In the first day or two she did astonishingly well, but then she realized that I was ‘teaching' her, and she became tense and hesitant. At first I couldn't understand why until I had an epiphany, Jack Savoy had been her first ‘teacher' and his brutal methods left a lasting impression. With patients and gentle consistency I managed to break through her fear and after a month under my tutelage she was making good progress.
She stopped pacing and stared at me for several seconds before coming to sit beside me. Reading together was not the passive undertaking that it might seem. While I still did most of the reading, I had taken, of late, to giving her some of the shorter, simpler passages. From time to time she would stumble or struggle with an unknown word, but I always helped her. The first few times this happened she cowered beside me like a whipped dog, expecting the same harsh treatment from me that she had received from Savoy. I was appalled and quickly assured her that I would never hurt her . . . for any reason.
Once she was settled, I opened the book and we began. I always read in a very deliberate way to her, as I often found myself having to stop and explain things. Little Deer was as curious as she was intelligent; one such lengthy explanation had to do with what a sailing ship was . . . and subsequently, what was an ocean? In the end, I found myself drawing a picture of a sailing ship for her on a page from my sketch book. Somehow I suspected that she still didn't believe such a craft or such a boundless body of water existed.
The thought of taking her all the way to Boston, out to its massive harbor and showing her a ship like the one I'd crossed the Atlantic on danced briefly through my mind. Why stop there, I thought, I could book passage for the two of us and show her the world. I pushed that thought from my mind, while it might be very entertaining for me and highly educational for her, the notion was a bit to ostentatious. I would do well to focus on helping her make her way in the world.
"Here," I whispered as I came to a short section. "You read this part; you should know most of the words. Remember to exhale as you mouth the words so I can hear you." I'd already scanned the short passage and I could only see three words that might cause her difficulty.
Early on I found it necessary to explain to her that I had extremely acute hearing and that, if she ‘whispered', I could make out her words. This way, she wouldn't have to look up all the time for me to read her lips. Unfortunately, without a tongue, some words didn't quite sound right.
I felt a small hand tugging at my sleeve, trying to get my attention, she caught me daydreaming again. "Where are you stuck, child?" I asked gently and watched as she pointed to the word that had her stumped. "Civilization," I provided. The sound of the word made her looked up at me, she was scowling in frustration.
I smiled warmly, "Learning is a process that requires time and patients, Little Deer." I'd told her this before, but the extra encouragement always helped. "You're doing an outstanding job; you should be pleased with your progress."
She shook her head and her frustrated scowl deepened; it was then that I realized her irritation ran deeper than the raging storm beyond the walls of our cabin or not understanding a word. I had a sinking suspicion that this was something major, and it needed to be addressed.
"What troubles you?" I asked, being sure to carefully mark our place in the novel with a strand of ribbon as I closed it. This was for her benefit, not mine.
She shook her head and pointed to the book in my lap, an obvious attempt to dismiss my question and change the subject. Little Deer was quite the effective communicator
"No," I told her gently as I set the book on the floor beside me. "We'll get back to our reading in a moment. Something more than simply not knowing a word has you upset . . . I would know what that something is."
For several moments she remained silent, toying with the bottom edge of her dress as she gathered her thoughts. I waited patiently for her reply, rushing her wouldn't help matters.
"For what reason do I need to learn this?" She mouthed, her breath escaping faintly past her lips as she did.
I was stunned and a little hurt as well, "I thought you enjoyed our lessons together, I thought you like learning."
"I do, and you are a good teacher, Panther Eyes, but if this is the only book in the world . . . then what is the use of knowing to read?"
"There are many books in the world, Little Deer," I sighed. My mind instantly turned to the vast libraries I'd visited in my travels. Only one book in the world, what a depressing thought.
"How many, and are they all about Robinson Caruso?"
How many, I mused, why, enough to fill an ocean, of that I was sure . . . though I wasn't firm on what the exact number of them might be. "Do you remember the forest we passed through on the way back to your village?"
"Well, imagine each and every tree in that forest as a book and you'll start to get an idea of just how many books there are." I watched as wonder lit her face and couldn't help my smile. "And as to their content, no they are not all about the poor unfortunate Mr. Caruso."
Her look of wonder soon slumped back into a frustrated scowl and I knew we hadn't gotten to the crux of the problem just yet. "There's more, what else troubles you?"
"I still do not understand," She whispered and by her expression I could tell she was trying to make sense of everything. "I believe you when you say that there are as many books in the world as there are trees in the forest, but only this one is here. Why do I need to know its words . . . if you read it to me, then I would know the story, I could tell it by the campfire to my children and grandchildren, and that would be that?"
The Sioux, like most Native Peoples, had a very strong oral tradition and no real written language to speak of. Knowing the story in order to hand it down to the next generation was of the upmost importance. In this way, stories never die, and important elements of culture as well as lessons about life are preserved. Her point, given this context, was valid and I had no argument to offer in my defense.
Except one, I thought, the fact that I'm taking her away from this place. I took a deep cleansing breath, it was time to revel a little of my plan to her. Perhaps it would be for the best as it would give her an opportunity to get used to the notion of going away.
"You trust me, don't you, my child?" That was perhaps the most leading question in the whole history of leading questions and I had asked it quite porously.
She nodded, "Yes, Panther Eyes."
"Good," I acknowledged her answer. "Then you must also trust that everything I do, everything that I offer to teach you, everything that I insist you learn is for a porous and for your betterment."
Again she nodded.
I paused for a moment as I considered how much of my plans I wished to revel to her. "In the spring," I began, "When conditions are fit for travel again, I intend to begin my journey eastward and I would endeavor to take you with me." I saw protest building in her eyes and then spill out onto her face, but I quickly quieted her, taking her hands in mine and insisting that she hear me out. "I cannot, in good conscious, leave you out here all alone, and it is absolutely imperative that I return to the east.
"Henry Savoy will not soon forget you or the wrong he thinks you've committed against him and I fear he will seek you out at winters end. When he finds you, he will kill you and it will not be an easy or gentle death. I promised you my protection, forever and for always, and I am a man of my word, Little Deer. I can't remain out here in the wilderness beyond the end of winter. I have a calling among the men who live in the east and I would take you with me . . . for your protection. That is why I've been teaching you to speak English and how to read . . . and I had hoped to teach you to write as well, if you're amiable to it."
"Why east, why not west?" she asked, I could read the panic in her voice "Jack and Henry were from the east."
I knew exactly where Little Deer's faulty logic was headed and I need to find a way to put it to rest before it went any further. I could understand why she would think this way, given her abusive treatment, but to consider an entire nationality as evil based on the detestable actions a select few was wrong. I needed to go deeper into her memories, further back, to a time before the Savoy brothers.
"Not everyone in the east is like Jack and Henry," I counseled. "The father who sired you and the mother who bore you . . . they were from the east. I imagine they were kind and loving, do you remember them Little Deer? Do you remember your parents?"
I watched regretfully as emotion's broad brush painted a wash of sadness over her features. She was only five at the time Carlisle, I scolded myself, how much did you think she would recall. I sighed and began to retract my words.
"I'm sorry, child, you were very small when you were taken." I whispered as I wrapped my arm around her shoulders in comfort. "Don't feel badly about not remembering anything of your birth family, it's not unusual."
"I was not taken." Her breath escaped in a near silent whisper as her lips worked to form the words. "Red Pony and his hunting party found me under a basket among the remains of my parent's wagon. They were already dead when he arrived. I would have died too, if he hadn't found and adopted me."
"My apologies, I was under the impression you were taken in a raid." Why had I assumed this, perhaps deep down I was more like my father that I thought. What a disturbing revelation. "I just thought . . ."
"You thought Red Pony killed my parents." She cut me off as she looked up to meet my gaze. "He found my parents lying side by side in the dirt, two crumpled and discarded heaps. According to Father, their necks were broken and it looked as though a large animal had attacked them and ripped their throats out."
"Dear God," I murmured. Her parents were killed by one or more vampires, who simply left the bodies without properly disposing of them and, apparently, left a small child to the mercy of the elements as well.
Leaving children unharmed was not uncommon among those of my kind who lived the traditional life; in fact, most of us had a natural aversion to hunting children. It was a form of self preservation really, killing off the children of your prey species meant you were killing off your future food supply. For this reason, I myself preferred male animals to female ones lest the females be pregnant or caring for young. Only a newborn or a truly desperate individual would have attacked this small family.
"He had a caterpillar under his nose." She whispered thoughtfully. Her response drew me from my morbid thought, but I found myself unable to place what she was saying into any reasonable context. She'd said the words in Sioux, so I assumed I had the translation wrong.
"Excuse me," I felt my face contort into a confused grimace.
"My Pa, he had a caterpillar under his nose," she supplied again, as she held her index finger under her nose. "I remember, it was brown and fuzzy, and it wiggled when he talked. I used to watch it when he went to sleep because I thought it might crawl off his face and then I could catch it and play with it."
I found myself chuckling in spite of not wanting to. "Your father had a mustache," I told her. "And your mother, what do you remember about her?"
"Her hair was like mine and very long. Every night, after she brushed my hair, I would watch her brushing hers until I fell asleep." I watched as she closed her eyes so she could remember more clearly. "She was always singing she had a voicelike a meadow lark." She became silent then and very still. Her breathing quickened and I watched a single tear trace a silver trail down her cheek and drip off her chin.
"Tell me," I began as I pulled her a little closer. I hadn't meant to make her cry, but while I was on the subject of her past, I decided that I might as well question her completely. "Do you remember their names . . . do you remember your own name? You were not always called Little Deer, once you had an eastern name."
She was quiet for a long time and I feared she would say nothing more about her distant memories. Finally a single word escaped her lips, "Nathanial."
"Your father's name was Nathanial?" I asked just for clarification.
She nodded sadly. "My mother called him so."
"And your mother," I pressed. It might be possible, if I knew enough about her parents, to find her eastern relations . . . if she had any.
She went silent again, but this time instead of answering with a whispered name, she began to sob and shake her head. I pulled her fully into my embrace, holding her against me as she cried, and whispering softly into her hair.
"There, there, now." I soothed gently, "You were very young Little Deer, and you did well to remember all that you have." I continued to hold her until her sobbing eased, and then I pressed her one last time. I hurt me deeply to do it, given the level of anxiety her reminiscing elicited, but it was necessary. "Do you recall your own name?"
More defining silence followed the question, but thankfully she didn't erupt into a new fit of tears. When she finally broke her silence, I was stunned by what she said. Had I not already been sitting, I think I would have fallen down.
"Ayala," she mouthed sadly.
Ayala was not an English name, nor was it Gallic, Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, or French though a variant of it was used very rarely in Spain. This name was quite unique and much unexpected, because this name was Hebrew and it meant, oddly enough, a female deer.
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