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.
8. Child of Two Worlds
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Child of Two Worlds
The endless days of cold and snow took their toll on my companion's mood. She was showing signs of anxiety, fidgeting and pacing like a caged beast. Often she wanted to go outside on the few sunny days that graced our wilderness home. To that end, I fashioned a pair of crude snowshoes for her and on the next clear day, I took her out.
It was completely alien to me, to willingly allow a human to view me in full sunlight, but the sight of my shimmering skin delighted Little Deer to no end. While it wasn't the first time she had seen me this way, she was the first human to gaze upon me in all my radiant splendor. Though the experience came with a measure of anxiety for me, after all, I had spent the better part of over a century and a half hiding what I was; I also found in it a kind of release. To be complexly relaxed and let my guard down in the company of a human, especially this human, was a new experience and one that I found strangely pleasant.
Little Deer enjoyed our excursions immensely. Sometime we would go for short aimless walks, we were never out for more than an hour and we stayed very close to the cabin, being human meant that Little Deer was highly susceptible to the cold. At other times, I would let her accompany me down to the creek to fetch water or out to gather fire wood. Whatever the reason, going out vastly improved her moods.
In fact, so much were they improved, that just this morning she mischievously pelted me in the back of the head with a snowball.
"Oh now you've gone a done it, haven't you?" I growled playfully as I wiped the cold snow from the back of my neck. I turned to face her and found a childish grin spread blatantly across her face, though she tried desperately to hide it behind her mitten hands. "You know," I smirked as I scooped up a hand full of snow and packed it loosely into a ball, "I never miss what I aim at."
I let fly with my snowball and she squealed once before darting behind the nearest tree. My projectile smashed against the edge of the tree, sending a spray of snow to blanket the back of her cloak as she disappeared behind the sheltering trunk. A lengthy yet playful snowball battle ensued, in the end, I surrendered . . . it was the gentlemanly thing to do.
Our outings also made her more receptive to her lessons, a fact that thrilled me because this morning I wanted to begin phase three of her education . . . writing. While she put her cloak and boots by the fireplace to dry, I pulled out a large piece of slate I acquired during my last hunt. After charring several sticks in the fire I sat down on the floor and called her to me.
"I'm going to show you something new today." I couldn't help the excitement in my voice. "We'll begin, I think, with your name. Everyone should know how to write their own name."
"But I do not know the letters in Little Deer." She said her name in Sioux, not English. In truth, I had no idea how to spell Little Deer in her native tongue either.
"I was referring to your given name, Ayala." I corrected gently. "It is the name you shall go by in the east."
While I truly loved her Sioux name and I thought it was very beautiful, it was my intention to gradually start using her real name in place of Little Deer in order to get her accustomed to hearing it. I reminded myself that, while it was likely that we would both find this process distressing in the beginning, I was doing this for her benefit. I also intended to have her start addressing me as Carlisle instead of Panther Eyes. I hated doing this and I would have preferred to go on forever as Little Deer and Panther Eyes, but it was impractical if she was to live with me in the east.
I watched her frown deeply, she was going to resist this and I couldn't honestly say that I blamed her. She hardly remembered her birth parents or being called Ayala; in her mind Red Pony and Ground Squirrel were her parents and Little Deer was her right and proper name.
"Why?" She challenged stubbornly. "Jack and Henry said I should be ashamed to be a Sioux, that I should hate Father and Mother for making me into a wild savage. Jack even said it would have been better if the coyotes had eaten me before Red Pony found me . . . he said I would be better off dead that to be a savage.
"Do you also think I should be ashamed, that I would be better off dead than to be what I am? Is that why you want to change me?"
"Of course not," I insisted without hesitation.
‘Why do you insist on living in a state of eternal, self-imposed, condemnation,' I remembered Aro asking me once concerning my unique lifestyle. ‘You have no reason to be ashamed of being a vampire, friend Carlisle; you did not choose this life it was thrust upon you. Yet you persist in an effort to deny your nature. It is one thing to pretend to be human for appearances sake and another thing entirely to delude one's self into believing that the illusion of humanity you weave is, in fact, reality.'
While I didn't fully agree with Aro's statement, he did make a convincing point, no one, vampire or human, had need of being ashamed of their nature. Little Deer was no exception to this. It was my firm belief that a carefully crafted porous and plan existed for every being under heaven. A grand design know only to the mind of God, and somewhere, somehow, everything and everyone fit into it . . . even me, a blood drinking abomination and especially Little Deer, a child of two worlds.
"Look at me," I insisted quietly and then waited until she gave me her gaze. "Jack and his brother were wrong. You are not a savage and for that matter, neither are your people. You should be very proud of who and what you are because you have every reason to be.
"The measure of a man . . . or woman is not found in where they live, or how they look, or the culture in which they were raised. Rather, it is in the strength of their integrity and the content of their character."
She scowled at me and I could tell she was confused. Little Deer was intelligent, but I managed to go over her head with my lofty explanation. "What I'm trying to say is this; you have nothing to be ashamed of because you've grown into a strong courageous young woman whom your parents would be very proud of."
"Then why do you wish to change me?"
I didn't really wish to change her, to do so would be a travesty. What I truly wanted was . . . well . . . to teach her how to be a vampire. No, not in the literal sense of course, as I didn't wished to rob her of her humanity; rather I meant it figuratively because I hoped to show her how to live in two worlds at once, just as I did. I wanted to show her how to maintain her true nature while keeping up an outward appearance.
"I do not wish to change you, my child, I am quite fond of you as you are." I assured her. An image flashed through my head and suddenly I knew exactly how I would explain this in terms she would understand.
"Consider for a moment, our friend the woodland hare." I began in my gentlest teaching tone. "In summer, friend Hare wears a coat of rich brown fur so that he blends in with the leaves, stumps, and undergrowth he hides in. Why do you think that is, child?"
"So that Bobcat, Wolf, and Owl do not make a meal out of him," She answered. I could tell she was a bit confused by the odd turn in our conversation. Still, I was confident that things would be clear to her shortly.
"Exactly," I encouraged. "Now, what happens to Hare's coat in winter?"
She shrugged, "It turns white."
"That's right, his fur turns snowy white," I agreed. "Why?"
"For the same reason, so that Bobcat, Wolf, and Owl do not make a meal out of him."
I smiled at her and nodded. "That is absolutely correct. Our friend, Hare, is a creature who can change his outward appearance based on the seasons so that he can hide from his enemies. But notice something, my child, it is only the color ofhis fur that does the changing, underneath friend Hare is still . . . Hare."
"That is what I propose to teach you," I informed her. "I am not trying to change you, Little Deer, rather, I'm trying to teach you to change the color of your coat, as friend Hare does, so that you may hide and go unnoticed among the men of the east. At the end of the day, however, Ayala will still be Little Deer of The Sioux just as friend Hare will always remains a hare."
I watched her for a time as she digested all I the things I told her. The expression on her face shifted several times as she considered my proposal. Finally she looked up at me and smiled faintly, "How does Ayala begin?"
"With the letter ‘A'," I answered happily as I drew the letter for her on the slate tablet.
As in all matters in this world, the choices we made meant everything. Yes, vampirism was thrust upon me, it was not a life I wanted nor would I have picked it had it been freely offered to me. I had no control over the events that made me what I am, but I had every control over the way in which I lived this immortal life. This is what I hoped to pass on to Little Deer; while she did not chosen to lose two sets of parents, or live in the wilderness among the Natives, nor be subjected to abuse at the hands of the Savoys, she had every control over how she conducted herself in the face of life's adversities.
I raced along at top speed across the snow covered landscape. My hunt had taken me further afield than usual and, as I now approached our little home, the sun was just showing itself above the eastern horizon. As always, I looked forward to returning to the cabin. By now, Little Deer was likely awake and making breakfast for herself. I smiled at the thought of seeing her.
Later in the morning, after she'd eaten and the sun had a chance to warm things up a bit, I planned to take her out and gather fire wood again. The outing would make her happy and therefore facilitated good progress with her morning lessons. Her writing was coming along quite nicely; she could print her name with proficiency and had learned several other words as well. Since she couldn't recall her own surname, I took the liberty of giving her mine. This would help once we reached the east as I intended to claim her as my younger sister.
We finished Robinson Caruso two nights ago. The only other books I had in my pack were a recently published manual on new surgical techniques which I doubted she would enjoy and, as always, the Bible. All though I had thoroughly memorized the holy text from Genesis 1:1 to Revelations 22:21 I still found myself in the habit of carrying my worn copy where ever I went and I frequently read from its familiar passages. In spite of my youthful indoctrination into my father's harsh interpretation of the Word, I found the voice within the pages warm and comforting; not at all like what he preached to me as a boy.
As I broke from the woods and drew nearer to the cabin, the inviting aroma of Honeysuckles filled my nose. Little Deer's personal scent clung heavily to our home and I had no complaints about it.
"Ayala," I called softly as I opened the door. Like most humans, she didn't hear my silent predatory approach and she was easily startled if I didn't announce myself. "Ayala," I called again, "Answer me child."
But there was no answer and no Ayala either, the cabin was empty. Panic threatened to swallow me like a tidal wave. Little Deer never went out alone, except for . . . my mind refused to complete the thought even as I took a deep breath. Her scent alone permeated the air with in the small structure.
I stepped back outside, the thickness of her scent indicated that she hadn't left very long ago. Being human, she couldn't have gotten very far. Iann's face suddenly flashed before my mind's eye and I couldn't help but wonder if he or his creator were in the area. If she were taken by one of my kind, I mused sadly, she could be miles away by now. Again I sniffed the air, but only Little Deer's scent filled my nose.
I pressed my inhuman hearing into service, listing for the sound of her heartbeat. I detected it almost instantly, but its thrum wasn't singular in my ears. The beating of a second, much larger, heart accompanied hers. By the strength of the sound, I calculated that Little Deer was near the stream where we went to collect water.
I was about to start out after her when another, more chilling sound accosted my hearing . . . it was the scream of a frightened horse. The presence of horses could almost universally be associated with the presence of humans, yet I hadn't heard a second human heartbeat. I was now even more concerned for my companion than before and I took off at a dead run toward the stream.
I was nearly at the narrow water way when the wind changed directions briefly. The shifting air current brought with it the reassuring aroma of Little Deer's sweet honeysuckle scent as well as the musty scent of horse. These I had expected, but the other smells that danced on the cold morning breeze I did not expect . . . the common human scent mingled with tobacco and wood smoke as well as the coppery scent of blood and the pungent putrefied smell of death. The knot of dread that formed in the pit of my stomach when I found the cabin empty suddenly grew to the size of a cannon ball.
I broke from the trees near the edge of the stream and found myself plunged into utter chaos. Little Deer was trying to calm a very frightened grey gelding, I watched in horror as the animal reared up and pawed at the air mere inches from her head. Immediately I noticed the two bullet wounds on the horses left shoulder. They were flesh wounds and therefore they weren't life threatening, but sticky trails of blood oozed from them just the same.
A wounded horse might well be the source of the blood scent. It did not, however, account for the putrid smell of death that hung in the air so thickly that it nearly made me gag nor did it account for the second human scent. I turned to my right and was mortified by the sight that greeted me. Over a century and a half's involvement in medicine meant that I had seen more than my fair share of corpses, but I never ceased being stunned and saddened by witnessing the evidence of a violent death.
The body of a robust man in his mid thirties with a scruffy blond beard lay sprawled on the ground under a tree. By his dress, I deduced he was a fur trapper and he showed evidence of having been shot at least four times, but only one bullet hit a vital place. Blood saturated the man's grubby buckskin shirt and trailed down one leg of his pants. The poor man likely bled out slowly, finally succumbing to the effects of exsanguination and falling, unconscious, from his mount. He died where he landed.
The horse screamed again and I turned my attention back to Little Deer. She had hold of the animal by the headstall of his bridle and was wrestling desperately for control. She was having some success as the horse appeared calmer than he had when I arrived, but my instincts told me the battle wasn't nearly over.
"Ayala Cullen, have you taken leave of your senses?!" I barked far more sternly than I intended. Fear for her safety made me heedless of my tone as I rarely, if ever, raised my voice to anyone. "Get away from that animal this instant."
Little Deer paid no mind to my command; in fact she completely ignored me. I watched helplessly as she continued work at soothing the frightened gelding. There was little I could do, animals became instinctively skittish in my presence and I feared if I moved closer to assist her, or remove her, the horse would become more combative.
To my amazement her tender yet firm touch and soothing whispers soon had the horse calm. He now stood still, allowing her to stroke his powerful neck. The only outward signs of his continued distress were head shaking and twitching ears. He was favoring his left foreleg and I guess his anxiety was caused more by the pain of his injuries than anything else.
Little Deer turned to me and the look I saw on her face was all too familiar to me, I had seen it often enough reflected back at me in the mirror.
"He is hurt," she mouthed, but I had no trouble hearing her soft whisper. "You said you were a healer, will you not help him?"
I sighed as I ran my hand through my hair. While I had an adequate knowledge of the anatomy of most large animals, I was not a Veterinarian by training. Then there was the problem of my predatory scent, I doubted very seriously that I could get near the gelding without sending him into another panicked frenzy. There was only one humane course of action, but I had to dismiss Little Deer first. Given her tender nature and her obvious attachment to the poor horse, she likely wouldn't consent to my intentions.
"Why don't you go back to the cabin now, Ayala," I instructed her in the gentlest tone I could muster. "I'll take care of this."
She didn't budge, but instead fixed me with the most intense gaze I'd ever encountered. Not even Aro had stared so intently at me; it was as if she was reading me like a page from one of my books.
"He is hurt, help him." It was not a question this time, it was a statement.
"I'm not an animal healer Little Deer," I informed her. "I will end his suffering mercifully, you have my word." It would take only a second to snap his neck and put him out of his misery. I would not feed from the animal as I wasn't fond of the taste of horse blood. And besides, Little Deer obviously felt a strong connection to him, and I didn't consider it proper to eat ones pets. "Now go back to the cabin and let me take care of this."
She shook her head. For the first time I saw the obstinate side of my companion. "He is a very good horse," she insisted. "He carried his rider faithfully even though he was also wounded and he did not abandon his rider when the man fell from his back. He has courage and he is loyal . . . he deserves our help.
"Besides, did you not say that I would need a horse when the spring comes, so that I might travel with you to the east? The Creator always provides for the needs of the People . . . here he has sent me a fine horse." She flashed her innocent yet knowing smile. "You are a powerful healer, Carlisle; you will make him well again, just like you made me well again."
Without another word to me, she began the slow arduous process of leading the injured horse back towards our cabin. I watched her for a time, admiring the gentle way she handled the animal, cooing and petting him as she coaxed him along. Little Deer was simply amazing, a force of nature and I felt myself privileged to be in her company.
That's when it dawned on me that I, a nearly two century old vampire, had just been soundly trounced in a test of wills by a fifteen year old human. I couldn't help but laugh.
When she and her horse diapered from my sight, I turned to the grim task of burying the body of the unfortunate trapper.
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