|Let Freedom Ring
Author: lX Carpe Diem Xl PM
As Marshall Stafford reaches adulthood during the Civil War, he must choose between inheriting his family's plantation, or following his heart, which is set on a slave girl.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 4 - Words: 8,797 - Reviews: 19 - Favs: 6 - Follows: 18 - Updated: 07-24-09 - Published: 06-20-09 - id: 2687696
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
It was glittering, unwavering and ever present in the night sky.
The North Star.
Her first memory had been the night her mother carried her to a clearing and pointed out that heavenly sparkle high above them. It had been the first private moment between them and she'd seized the peaceful opportunity to hold her daughter like she never had before, as though she never would again. She was a tall, proud woman, but was weighed down by years of intense strain and the heavy heart of a mother. With a sigh deep from her chest, she had launched into advice passed down for over a hundred years. "Let that star be your guide, Ruth. If we's ever separated, you just follow that star, and you find your way home to me, gal. It never moves and it always lead the right way. You find your way home."
A few weeks after that intimate exchange, her mother had been sold, and some fifteen years later she had still not tried to find her; just as her mother had not tried to find her mother, and so on. Few people ever followed the Star, for few had the courage to leave. As Ruth glanced down at her own young daughter, snoozing lightly against her warm bosom; she doubted the words she was about to speak would ever be taken to heart, but they must be said, regardless.
She lightly knocked the girl, who stirred and opened her eyes, confused to find herself in the cotton fields. "There be something I need to say," Ruth swallowed, and pointed heavenwards, "You see that thing there? That star? That be your freedom, gal. Where ever you get taken--be it hell itself--that star lead you North, where freedom be. An' I do my best to meet you there."
Ruth pulled her daughter tightly against her chest. She had shared this moment with five other children, all of whom were now unaccountable. She could barely remember their faces, but the smell of their skin against her cheek was still fresh as she held this one close. My babies, she thought despairingly, All my other babies be taken from me, and this one…
This one was five or six--years mattered little to her--and older than most all her other children had been before sellin'. Her firstborn boy had been taken fresh from the tit, and her second was barely speaking the last time she'd seen her. At that point she had learned not to get attached to the tiny, dependent things that came from her womb and fed off her body for a year or two, but as time went on and this child still remained with her, her hardened heart had softened.
Only to…Ruth tried to swallow a hard lump in her throat, and realized that the child had fallen asleep again. She was still young enough to be carefree and innocent of the world, but that would change soon enough. Ruth had to warn her. "Wake up, gal…there's more I got to say."
With a yawn, the girl rubbed at her groggy eyes and stared up at her. "What is it, Mama?"
Ruth's heart ached. There was no denying that this one was going to be a beauty. Her large chocolate eyes were framed by long lashes and her skin was a light bronze color--her face still chubby from baby fat, but doubtless to be thin and well defined one day. If Ruth had had the sense, she would scar this child's face, for her beauty was doubtlessly going to be her greatest curse.
She knew that was the reason why she still had the child here; why she hadn't been sold yet. Why one younger than her had been sold a year ago. The master knew she was going to pretty up and knew he'd get a better price for her looks than her strength. And it sickened her that her daughter was going to experience the same heartache she had fallen victim to. Her hand moved to her swollen stomach, soothing the fiery little life inside her. It was a never ending cycle.
"You listen good, chil'. There be a lot of evil in this world and ye're gonna figure that out firsthand. Ye're a slave girl and that means you live the hardest life of all. You lose your babies and you never know love. And there be men who gonna do things to you aint no married man ought to do, but don't you ever let him win. You never make the mistake of getting close to him or anything that comes of him, you get me? You do your duty but don't never get your head in the clouds, Penny. And the first chance you get, you run. You run, you got me?"
"Yeah, Mama. I got you," the little girl replied groggily, though her young mind did not understand the implications behind her mother's words.
Heavy footsteps alerted Ruth too late. She glanced over her shoulder as the cotton was swept aside and a well-dressed man stared down at her. "There you are. I half thought you'd run off on me."
She had half a mind to, but her current condition wouldn't have gotten her farther than the woods before the hounds chased her down. "No sir, I don't run."
"And you better not, if you know what's good for you."
"I just needed time with my girl," Ruth replied.
He stepped forward, and his handsome face came into profile. "Well you had your moment. Now give her here."
Ruth suddenly felt fearful. "Sir, won't you keep her, please? Please, Mass'r. Please, I do anything to keep my girl."
He gave her a once over and sneered. "I don't imagine there's much more you could offer me, Ruth. I let her stay long enough."
Rage filled her and with a strength unknown she rose from the ground, clutching her sleeping daughter tightly against her. She thrust out her pregnant belly. "I gave you everything you ever ask for, Mass'r. I give you cotton, I give you myself, I give you babies--"
"All those things are mine by right, and don't you ever forget it," he growled, "I should whip you. My fondness for you has led me to spoil you, and you forget your place." He reached out, "Now hand her here."
I once thought I loved this man. I once thought he could love me.
And then he'd sold her first baby, and then her second, and then every child thereafter.
Except for this one.
She stared defiantly at him.
His face colored and his brows set. "I swear on it, Ruth. I will have you whipped for impudence if you do not hand that girl over to me."
Her courage wavered. What chance did she stand? Whether or not she put up a fight he would win. He was the master. He was God around here.
"I can carry her," her voice wavered.
"No, you can't," he replied, "I won't have you risking my investment."
With a humbled sigh, she realized he was talking about the babe in her belly. Everything leading up to it had been an investment. She was nothing more than breeding chattel to him.
Ruth whispered in her daughter's ear, "You remember what I say, girl." She felt her stir, but before she could kiss the plump baby cheek, the child was ripped from her arms. She cried out, but did not fight her master, only trailed behind whimpering and sobbing as he carried away the last of her children and coldly deposited her into the arms of his overseer.
She collapsed to her knees when Penny was dropped into the wagon full of other slaves and jolted awake. Her tears fell harder as the startled child began to wail for her, and she was soundly smacked into submission. Ruth grabbed at her throat--willing herself the strength to crush her windpipe--when the wagon began to roll away, and was only vaguely aware that her owner had yanked her to her feet and shoved her against the barn. "Why do you do this to yourself, Ruth?" he whispered.
"My baby. She was my baby…"
"You know they're not yours, and that you can't keep them. Remember the deal we made, Ruth. You give me fifteen live children and I will give you freedom. You're halfway there, and once you are, any children born to you will be yours."
She felt one of his smooth fingers run from her ear down to her quivering lips, but he no longer had a spell over her. She could only stare blankly as the wagon faded from sight.
He followed her gaze to the empty road. "There will be others."
Sobbing, Ruth surveyed her surroundings. It was late; the other slaves were sleeping--the overseer offered no pity. The only other witness to her torment stood in front of the window of the Big House, half hidden in shadows. It was the mistress of the house, having stayed awake to make sure that her husband had really gotten rid of his illegitimate offspring. Ruth knew it must be hard for the mistress to see her husband's face in another woman's child, but felt little sympathy; her own children slept safely and soundly in their beds. How the man could love one set of children and callously sell another baffled her. She wanted to gouge his eyes out. She'd never see her children again because of him.
As if reading her mind, he repeated in a pseudo-comforting tone, "There will be others." His fingers slid down to her belly--just then, she saw the mistress spin away from the window. The hand over her middle felt possessive and promising of another night like this.
Her shaking legs could no longer support her, but his hold on her arms would not let her sink to the ground; to disappear into the earth and escape the pain. The babe in her belly kicked, and instead of feeling a mother's joy, her heart felt laden in her chest.
Yes, there will be others. And none of them will be mine.