An event leading up to the first Thanksgiving. First place Newbies Contest, September 2016
16 March, 1621.
Samoset darted into the undergrowth and crouched behind a mossy log. Dampness seeped through his buckskin leggings. Despite protesting limbs, he remained motionless. His heart pounded as three pale-skinned invaders approached. Hoping he wouldn't need it, he notched a flint-tipped arrow to his bow.
The foreigners came within five paces, glancing around wide-eyed and clutching their muskets close to their chests. In the forest, Englishmen were as blind as hatchlings; they walked straight past his hiding place. The stench of stale sweat assaulted his nostrils. Why couldn't they bathe like civilized people?
These men dressed differently to the sailors who often camped near Samoset's village, with dark clothes that covered most of their bodies. As they spoke in hushed tones to one another, he barely understood half their words. He listened intently; he'd volunteered to scout the foreigners' settlement near Patuxet and report back to the Wampanoag Nation all that he learned.
Once the foreigners walked out of sight, he released his pent-up breath and returned the arrow to his quiver. He hadn't visited Patuxet in years, but he remembered the route. The village used to be so lively: children laughing, adults dancing. One young girl sang People of the Dawn with great passion. They called her Little Storm because of her quick temper. All dead now; lost to the plague.
Pushing aside his melancholy memories, he pressed on. The trees thinned, and the chilly breeze carried a salt tang. The gray ocean stretched across the horizon.
A white flash caught his eye. He slid behind a tree trunk. Two strangely dressed children ambled past. He'd met many English sailors, but never their offspring. These girls looked his daughter's age, twelve winters. One's hair was a color he'd never seen before—orange like a sunset. A white ribbon tamed her fiery locks. His chest tightened at their pinched faces. He'd wager the pitiful creatures hadn't eaten a decent meal since fall.
They stopped nearby and plucked leaves from a pokeweed bush, dropping them into a foraging bag. Why would they gather poison?
Sunset pushed a fistful of leaves into her mouth.
He jumped out. “Halt. No eat.”
She froze like a rabbit caught between two wolves. Both girls screamed, then bolted into the forest.
He hoped Sunset hadn't ingested any leaves. He shook his head. Why should he care? The English were enemies.
Soon, he arrived at the forest fringe. Concealed behind a bush, he surveyed Patuxet's ruins. After three winter's neglect, the few surviving wigwams were nothing but skeletons. He shifted his attention to a nearby hill. Eleven peculiarly shaped huts had sprouted on the heights. Men dressed in black from head to toe scurried around this settlement like rats infesting a winter storehouse.
Close to his hiding place, two men labored in a field. One dug holes while another poured in maize. Samoset clenched his fists; they'd stolen those seeds from the Wampanoag. But, nothing would come of this toil except sweat. It was too early for planting, and even children knew maize required fertilizing with rotten fish.
The two girls appeared from the forest. Sunset's hair had come loose and flew behind her like the flags on Englishmen's boats.
“Indians,” cried Sunset, tears flowing down her pasty cheeks. “Indians, Papa. Lots of 'em.”
Dropping their tools, the men glanced around as if expecting the earth to spit out Wampanoag warriors. The father grabbed both girls by the hand, then they all fled toward the hill.
Samoset laughed. These weren't the mighty warriors he'd feared. If the Wampanoag appeared en-mass, these fools would scatter back to the sea. He crept out from the trees to examine the field of failure. A white ribbon stood out against the freshly turned earth. He crouched and scooped it up. It was Sunset's—a child who most likely would soon be dead.
He cast the ribbon to the ground; he must not allow emotions to cloud his judgment. Nobody asked them to come here. Some would eat poisonous plants, others would perish by the plague. Come fall, only ghosts would remain.
Turning his back on the foreigners, he returned to the forest. The Wampanoag would be pleased with this intelligence. He loped gracefully through the woodland, stepping on rocks or roots to avoid leaving a trail—not that the English could follow one—then skirted around a pokeweed bush.
He'd once seen a man blind with age who'd accidentally eaten pokeweed berries. That poor elder shook uncontrollably and vomited until finally his eyes rolled into his skull and he stopped breathing, his mouth contorted in pain.
Samoset stopped and gazed at the heavens. Great Spirit, what was he thinking? Obnoxious foreigners or not, the English were people. What if Sunset were his daughter? With a sigh, he turned around and headed back. He'd warn the settlers about pokeweed, then go. No need for Sunset to die.
From the forest edge, he examined their settlement again. Approach would be difficult without being shot. Was it really worth risking his life? An image flashed through his mind—a girl with sunset-colored hair writhing on the ground, screaming in agony. He must try.
Perhaps he could play to the Englishmen's prejudices. They expected naked savages who drank heavily. If they believed him a buffoon, they might not consider him a threat.
He stripped off his hunting jacket and tucked it inside a hollow trunk. After a moment's hesitation, he also removed his tomahawk and quiver, placing them on top of his jacket. Carrying only his bow and two arrows—they'd never believe he traveled with no weapons—he walked out of the forest, shivering. Great Spirit, it was freezing. The English really would think him foolish.
Shouts from the huts said they'd spotted him. It took them long enough. Men ran in his direction, clutching muskets, faces twisted with hate. Samoset took a deep breath and stepped into their midst, his arms outspread.
“Welcome, English. Have you ale for weary traveler?”
WORD COUNT: 998