Title: Love and Freedom
Summary: A slave falls in love with his benevolent mistress, just as she loves him, but she is bent on getting him to freedom rather than risking her husband's anger towards him. One shot.Notes/Warnings: One shot; set during mid-1800s; mild mature content; told in first person
XLove and Freedom
I guess I should be thankful for the things that I am allowed in my short life. I'm a learned slave, something that only a dead person knows, and something that masters and mistresses alike hate. In my twenty-four years, I've been given a lot of leverage. The ladies like me and I'm almost always a favorite of my master's. I guess I should be thankful. I guess I should be happy I'm not treated as harshly as other slaves.
But I don't feel that way.
My mind and my heart are two different things and they always lead me astray. They hiss and spit at each other and argue and confuse me. It's why I have so many wounds on both my person and my soul. My mouth acts by my heart, because it usually overpowers my mind. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes, when I take into consideration that I could be beaten to death, the good sense of my mind overrules my heart. I guess I should be thankful.
But I'm not.
Because, really, what's worth living for when you're a slave? We sing about going home, about the good Lord, but what home is there except for the damned plantations where we work, and what good Lord would let his people be enslaved? I never voice these questions, of course, not to anyone. No matter how close you think someone is, you discover they're not as trustworthy as you want to believe. I hate that. I hate feeling alone and desperate and the need to curl up by myself and never talk again, of never living. Ending your life and your master doing it for you is different. I won't beg for my master to, though, because it's shameful. If I end it myself, I go to Hell. Either way, there is no path except freedom.
Nobody ever seems to want to free me.
The new master who owns me (my body, but not my mind or heart) is a large guy with a bristling, graying mustache with long hair that he pulls back in a tiny tail. It looks absolutely ridiculous. (I love saying that! An old owner of mine said it often and I've fallen in love with the phrase.) His name – from what I've heard – is Edgar Rowling. I know from experience how white men react when you say their first name, so I'll be dutiful and call him "Mas' Rowling." If I were to use the complete word of master, he'd know for a fact I'm learned and that isn't something I'm willing to see. Slaves are instantly killed for that.
My fellows have told me that I have a Missus, too, but I haven't seen her from all my time on the plantation and I won't ask what she's like because often enough, no matter how hard I try, my speaking is strange to the other slaves and they know there's something different about me. So I talk little.
"Hey-a, Rafie," Jem, one of the other slaves, hollered to me as the bell rang out along the tobacco fields from the Manor, signaling that it was time to go into the Quarters. Jem was the only person I even muttered a word to and after giving him my name, Raphael, he had instantly shortened it to 'Rafie.' I don't even like my name, being named after an angel of all things. "You is perty good in those fields." He winked, adding, "The gals sure do like lookin' at you." I merely gave a thin smile. I didn't care what the girls liked. I had made it clear towards all my masters that I wasn't marrying and I sure as hell wasn't going to be used as a breeder.
"Miz 'Lisabeth be out here to give us supper," Jem added with a grin. I glanced at him. I guessed that the real Mistress Rowling's name was Elizabeth. We slaves, before we are learned, tend to shorten everything. I don't look down upon them because they do it. I did it once, too. I just took the initiative to teach myself things while they were too frightened to. Once again, my heart's stupidity prevailed over my mind's good sense. "You aine met Miz 'Lisebeth, Rafie?" I blinked and glanced at him, shaking my head 'no.' "Well, you gonna. She a nice missus." I couldn't say whether I agreed or not.
As soon as we arrived in the tiny, cramped Quarters, others were there, either groaning from exhaustion, or talking lightly with each other. Later, glancing out of the without-panes windows, I saw a lantern bobbing from a dark hand and another white-clad figure beside the slave. I saw two other dark slaves, holding things, and I suspected this was Mistress Rowling.
"Evenin', Miz 'Lisebeth," a few slaves chorused as soon as the white woman stepped into the Quarters. She didn't have to duck down, so small was she. And young. I had expected an older woman to be wed to Master Rowling, as he was a bit past his age of prime. But, no, this woman – this lady – was maybe even younger than me. She appeared to be around nineteen, maybe twenty. She had soft, strawberry-blonde hair with wide, gray eyes and skin as pale as flour.
"Good evening to you all," she said brightly to us and smiled. She had dimples. For a white woman, she was incredibly pretty. I don't usually think long about what my mistress looks like, but I was dwelling on it long and hard as the slaves from the Manor set up the good quality of food. I couldn't get my eyes off her. I was horrified with myself, but more fascinated by her. After the food was finished with, she set the quilts she had brought with her on the ground, adding, "It will be chilly out tonight. I don't want anyone to catch a cold." My fellow slaves murmured their content and then she stated, "I am also looking for the new one my husband bought." I noticed she didn't blatantly call us slaves or Negroes. "Can someone point him out to me?"
Jem, the old fool, waved a hand and gestured towards me. I stiffened and glanced at him, before moving forward in what I hoped was a meek manner. It wasn't enough. I wanted to avoid looking at her, but I towered over her and she stared straight up into my face. "You will be working in the stables," she informed me. She then flashed another smile at the others in the Quarters and swept from the doorway, ushering me to follow her. I did so, keeping silent, and hoping to the Lord above that this woman, with her all-knowing gaze, would not see me for what I am. "What is your name? Please do not linger behind." I quickened my pace so I was only a bit behind her. It wasn't known for a slave to walk beside their master or mistress.
"Raphael," I answered her question shortly.
"What has happened to your parents? How old are you?" I felt dizzy by the sudden rush of questions.
"Dead, missus, and twenty-four."
"Twenty-four? Seven years older than I, then. Where were you originally from?"
So she is seventeen. Swallowing, I mumbled, "Georgia, missus."
"Georgia? Awful. I hate the Deep South. We, here in Virginia, treat our help far better than they do further south. Really, they are a disgusting people. Was it very hard down there? How did you come to be in my husband's hands?" I was shocked, not only by her questions, but by her honest statements. I had never met such a woman. I struggled briefly to regain my wits.
"Aye, missus, hard." It would take too much talking to explain the other question. I hoped she would forget it, but she was not easily turned from her path of choice.
"My husband's buying you, Raphael, what of that?" She demanded. I closed my eyes briefly as she paused before the Manor. I opened my eyes just as she turned to face me. The other slaves went ahead, apparently by a gesture she had given that I hadn't seen. Her face was kind and her eyes curious. If she were like some of my other mistresses, who had tried to force me to breed with them, who had slapped me for no apparent reason and enjoyed my pain, I would have lashed out at her. But her questions weren't purposely cruel. She was just plain curious by me. I suspected she did it to all slaves.
"I dunna know, missus. I cain't remember..."
"No?" She sounded puzzled, but merely shook her head and smiled at me. Thank the Lord that he is feeling merciful towards me today. "Well. If you cannot remember, then that is that." She gently pressed her hand to mine, for a brief moment. While mine was burning hot, hers was cool and soft and tantalizing. The deep contrast of her skin to mine made me remember how wrong it would be for me to think naughty thoughts of my mistress. It was different when it was the opposite. They were allowed. We weren't. "I will have you be bathed, given new clothes, and then taken to the loft in the barn where you will sleep. Tomorrow, you will be with Barney in the stables, cleaning them, feeding and washing the horses and such. Barney will explain it to you." She gave me another smile and then ordered me into the barn where I was given a bath and new clothes and worn shoes.
The black slave, Barney, was far older than I and after laying out a pallet for me and a quilt, he went back to his own and fell asleep almost instantly. I, too, fell asleep in the dark of the barn, my mind lingering over the soft features of Miss Elizabeth. Irritated, I pushed my face into the pallet and fell into a light slumber.
I have never worked in the stables in my entire life. (And I had been a slave my entire life.) It was more grueling work than I thought. First, we fed the horses – great beasts that snorted in your face and were extremely touchy – and then we took them out and cleaned the stables, which took all from morning to the afternoon. Cleaning the horses and where they had wasted themselves was just as bad. By the time it was suppertime and we went to the kitchen to get our food, my limbs were aching and my hands were raw from using a brittle brush for cleaning the horses.
But my work apparently wasn't done then. Barney and I were ordered by the master to carry up a basin of hot water to Miss Elizabeth's bathing tub. I nearly dropped the basin when I saw she was already in a thin, white silken robe and her hair was down. She seemed surprised to see it was us, because she folded her arms over her chest and shuffled to the side of her bed, watching us pour the water into the tub behind the screen. I had the horrible urge to linger and watch her slide her robe off and flinched at the thought.
"Thank you both," she said politely and once again, I felt her gray eyes fixed on my face. Turning my face down, I peered at my feet interestedly before she quietly dismissed us. I was glad to be gone.
"I don't see why," I mumbled to myself as I moved from the stables to pour the dirty pail of water, "the damned horses have to be cleaned every day. It's absolutely ridiculous. It's not as though the beasts roll around in dirt every day and..." I trailed off, halting in my footsteps and sloshing some water on the ground as I stared, horrified, at my mistress who had a similar expression on her face. I knew she had heard me and uneducated slaves did not use phrases such as 'absolutely ridiculous.' Hell, I don't even think they know those words! I know I hadn't. I had no escape route, either. I couldn't start talking like I wasn't learned. She had heard enough to see through my lie. Well, after so much cruel treatment, I was going to be hung.
I tensed, preparing myself to run from her, maybe even throw this disgusting water on her. Really, how did those horses get so filthy in just a day?
"No, wait," Miss Elizabeth said, holding out a hand to stop me from fleeing. "Stay. I won't tell my husband of this, Raphael." She looked nervous, as though unsure of what next she should do or say. What in God's name was she even doing, lurking around here anyway? "Please. Stay with me awhile." No. No, no, no. I won't become her pet – in bed or anywhere else, damn it!
"I have things to do, mistress. I am a slave." My tone was cold. I saw her face drop and wished I hadn't said that. She could have gone running to her husband to tattle, but instead she was keeping my secret.
"Yes, I know, Raphael," she replied softly. "I...I would like company, though. I suspected that the reason you don't talk much is because you are learned." She glanced around us cautiously, as though expecting someone to jump out and apprehend her. I didn't blame her for being anxious. I was of the same feeling. "I try to find out everything I can about the plantation workers here. I try to even things out. My husband is harsh to everyone and I try to mend those that are mistreated by being kind to them."
"Why?" I demanded. I wanted to trust her, because when she spoke of mistreatment, I saw a shadow pass over her face and suspected she was treated the same way the slaves were by Master Rowling.
"Because this world needs kindness. Will you tell me about yourself, Raphael? I don't trust myself with anyone, but perhaps if you can trust me with your secret, I can trust you with mine." She was practically pleading, the poor lady. She was lonely and unhappy with her marriage. I was only a slave, and although I was beginning to trust her more, I wasn't sure what she was asking of me. There were things I wouldn't give her – no matter how beautiful she was – and if that was what she wanted, then she would be sorely disappointed.
"I have to return to the stables first," I said slowly. Her face lit up and she nodded. I poured out the bucket and let her lead me back to the stables. Barney seemed to understand what was happening because when the mistress told him I was changing positions again, he just gave a nod and grunt, mumbling a polite phrase at the end.
When Miss Elizabeth floated into the Manor and up the stairs, I followed, watching the fancy settings pass me. She opened a door and ushered me inside before following inside. She shut the door, closing it quietly. "This is my own personal parlor," she told me as she settled on a divan and patted the seat beside her. "Edgar knows better than to come here without my invitation, as well as everyone else." I sat beside her, not liking the closeness. She was a small presence physically, but a large one otherwise.
"I'll speak frankly with you, mistress," I told her, deciding to trust my instinct with her since she didn't seem to be offended by my manner of speaking. "I have no idea what you're asking of me by changing me from my stable working." She hesitated, looking anxious. Did that mean she planned on having me breed with her? Was she only lonely in bed?
"I have no one to talk with, Raphael," she admitted at last with a sheepish look. "My husband prefers to slap me around and yell at me. It is why the...workers...and I look kindly upon each other. No one else sympathizes with them because they haven't felt what they feel – what you feel. I suppose I could take a favorite and talk with them, but I'm afraid they would tell Edgar the things I say so they can get freed or have favors. But when I first met you, I suspected you were different...You...You are different, right?" Fear jumped into her eyes and I almost sighed aloud. I felt as though I was facing another slave, only the skin color was different.
"Yes, mistress, much different," I agreed. Relief flooded over her, making her shoulders drop a bit. "You seem a trustworthy person. I am...naturally suspicious of white people. I'm sorry if I seemed rude to you. There have been many mistresses of mine that want my companionship for something less innocent than your request." She blinked and then laughed nervously, looking away as her cheeks colored slightly. She was still seventeen, even if she was married and was the mistress of a plantation.
"Thank you, Raphael," she hastily said. "I will take good care of you, I promise. You must call me Elizabeth when we're alone, though." She paused, frowning slightly. "Or Liz, whichever you prefer." I smiled and nodded.
"Liz, then." She beamed back at me.
As I slept in the barn that night, I stared up into the darkness, listening to my heart beat steadily in my chest. I had always been a favorite, that was true, but this was different. I could speak freely with her and she would do the same. I could sit close beside her and let the warmth of her arm press against mine. It seemed more intimate than a mistress and her favorite slave and inwardly, I wondered if it could become more. It was my heart that yearned for that and my mind that nastily proclaimed it would never, could never, happen.
"Raphael." I jumped slightly at the husky sound of Barney's voice. He rarely spoke and so I was surprised that he suddenly would. "You're learned, aren't you?" Apparently he was as well.
"And you, too," I whispered back. We were the only ones in the barn, but I felt wary nonetheless.
"Yes. You have become the mistress' pet?" I frowned and was about to deny the claim, but he continued on, "I don't mean bedding her. Miss Elizabeth isn't like that. I knew you were educated yesterday and knew you had the sweets for her."
"Many slaves have and do," Barney continued in his rasping voice, as though I hadn't even spoken. "The mistress is a beautiful woman, even if she is white, but she is also kind and a slave to the master. The girls from the Manor tell us how the master beats her and insults her. She has been miserable ever since she showed up on the plantation. Anyway, she takes good care of us and those at the Manor try to do the same for her."
"...Has she been with any slave?"
"No," Barney grunted, "but I suspect that it's because she's so afraid of the master. You be real careful about the master, Raphael. If he finds out you and the mistress are getting close, he'll kill you. He's mighty possessive."
"I'm not getting close," I mumbled, glaring at him through the dark. He shifted, as though feeling the glare.
"We'll see about that, boy."
In my mind, even if I'm around other slaves or Master Rowling, I think of the mistress as Liz. When I talk to her, I address her that way. She doesn't call me Rafie, but there is a note of affection when she says my name. Two weeks have passed and I continue to do nothing but wait on her. I do nothing but give her my company so that she will keep my secret to her heart. I keep hers to mine, as well. Every day that we talk, she gives me things to read and informs me of the news of the world that she discovers from the newspapers or the guests or even her husband. She is a wealth of knowledge, telling me of the places she has been, of England, where she used to live. It sounds like a beautiful place and she says that there is no slavery there.
Today, she is limping and almost instantly slumps on the divan. Her face is ashen and she is weak. I want to turn away from the truth that Master Rowling beat her recently, but I cannot stop the anger that wells up inside of me. It is a habit that I haven't tried to take care of and I suppose it is my own fault. I cannot help it, though. Honestly, I don't want to stop it.
"Why do you let him do it?" I rage at her after a few minutes of silence. She doesn't reply, turning her face from me. "You should fight back!"
"I am afraid it would only anger him further," she quietly answered. I gawked at her.
"So what?! Throw in your own slap, your own sass!" I sat down beside her and hesitated before taking her hands. Mine were so dark against her pale skin, so black. It stung to realize what different worlds we were from even though we seemed to have similar situations. She raised her head and turned her sad eyes to mine and then looked down at our joined hands with the same speculative expression as mine.
"Raphael...Will you hold me?" The request seemed weak and uncertain. Once again, I was hesitating. It had been years since I last hugged a person and it certainly had not been my mistress. Carefully, I brought her into my arms and against my chest. She gave a tiny sigh and circled her arms around my waist and snuggled against me. "It feels so good to be held." I wanted to tell her that it felt just as nice to hold someone, especially her. I winced inwardly. The signs were there and I could see them as clearly as any other wide-eyed person. I was falling in love with her. Love is a foreign emotion to me, but I'm not so stupid that I don't know that what I was feeling now was what it was. "...You deserve much better," she mumbled in my shoulder. "Edgar is careless with his slaves and trades them carelessly. I will lose you some day." She drew away, scanning my face. "I would be very sad if I knew you were being mistreated, my Raphael."
Lord, strike me down for feeling the way I do towards a woman whose race that has enslaved my people. With gentle fingers, I brushed her hair from her face and rested my cheek against hers, breathing in her faint perfume. Swallowing nervously, I withdrew and pressed my lips to hers softly, wishing she would push me away, but at the same time wishing she would bring me closer. And she did. She pulled me closer to her, clinging to me in desperation. It was a desperation I reveled in, but it was also one that I was familiar with. I had needed companionship for the longest time, but was never given it.
"I am sorry," she whispered, pulling away. So she accomplished at doing both things that I was wanting. "I am sorry for giving you hope...for giving us both hope. Forgive me."
"You will not take me, then?" I asked quietly, feeling a bit offended.
"You have already said, Raphael, that – " She began in a tone that suggested she, too, was feeling slightly insulted.
"But that was different," I interrupted. "You are different, Liz." I cupped her pale, porcelain face in my black hands and saw a glimmer of the hope that she claimed she shouldn't give in her eyes and face. I leaned down and kissed her, much less gently than last time. This time, the kiss wouldn't stop. Nothing would stop.
Barney had taken one look at me when I arrived at the barn after supper and had chuckled before turning his back to me and falling asleep with that quickness I admired of him. I was lying awake for hours, thinking of the soft beauty I had made love to today. It had been hard to imagine Liz as a passionate woman, but that was what she was and I enjoyed every bit of it, kissing her places I knew no other man had and giving her the pleasure that she deserved.
When I awoke the next morning, I knew instantly that something was wrong. It had only just turned dawn and Barney, usually sleeping in until the sun had touched everything, was missing from his pallet. I could hear awful screams outside that must have woken me blending with angry shouts and other voices. Ruffling my thick hair, I scrambled from the pallet and tripped down the ladder and out the barn.
I blinked blearily and looked around in confusion at seeing so many of us running around or in a large pack just a few steps from the barn. I spotted Barney and a few others closer to the manor and jogged to him, murmuring, "What's happening?" He glanced at me and then grabbed my arms. Startled, I struggled against his inhuman grip, but he wouldn't release me.
"Look, fool, and remain calm," he hissed in my ear. It was then that I saw Master Rowling with a whip in his hand. Only a few feet from him was Liz in her nightgown with her arms bloodied from where the whip had hit her. This wasn't the same kind of beating that he usually inflicted upon her. He was treating her like one of us. I understood then why Barney had been so quick to take a hold of me. I let out a shuddering breath and tensed, but his grip only tightened. "You'll be the death of her if you act, Raphael!" He snapped lowly so that no one else could hear. "Now stay calm." For her, I did, and it was only for her that I stayed as I was. My life, his life, was nothing compared to hers. Mine was only a flickering light in the darkness that could be snuffed out easily. Hers was nothing so simple.
Suddenly seeing us, Master Rowling screamed at us, "Get out of here, you goddamned niggers! What are you looking at?! GET!!" He didn't even wait to see if we did go. He spat at the ground near Liz's crumpled form and then stormed inside the house, wielding his awful whip with him. No one moved for the longest moment, waiting for any signs that he would return. When it was assured that he was safely ensconced in the manor, a few men and women rushed to Liz while I stood with Barney as my shackles. He released me, cautiously, but I never moved, staring distantly.
"Raphael!" One of the women called to me irritably. I looked to her and she gestured impatiently. Swallowing, I forced my legs to move and snaked my way through the crowds, kneeling next to Liz. She was bleeding from the lashes that had cut through cloth and flesh alike. I wanted to sob and bring her to my chest, but clenched my hands to resist the urge.
"Raphael..." Liz whispered faintly, reaching out and touching my hand with her own damp one. Her smile was weak and nothing like her usual one. "My Raphael...Take me to the barn and leave me with these women. They'll care for me." I stared back at her and slowly turned my head to look at the black women behind me. Their expressions told me that they were aware of my relationship with our mistress, but didn't disapprove. I had to trust them, seeing as how no one else could – or would – care for her.
"Alright," I murmured and gingerly bringing her in my arms, I rose to my feet and went to the barn with the women following. I had two of them go up the ladder before me and then climbed up and handed Liz to the women before getting up myself. We moved her to my pallet and I was mercifully allowed to stay. It was past noon meal before they were finished.
"Raphael," Liz murmured when the women had left. I crawled to her and took the hand she reached out. With her other hand, she stroked my head with a loving caress that brought tears to my eyes. Alarmed, she raised my head and asked, "What is it? Why are you crying?" How could I explain to her the full extent of the pain I felt for her? It wasn't possible to describe it in words. "Please. Don't cry for me." She sighed and wiped my face, a closed expression on her face. Her face was ashen and her lips were cracked from dehydration. I would have gotten her water, but had no desire to leave her alone. "I promise, Raphael, I'll take care of you."
"For God's sake, Liz, I don't need taking care of," I whispered harshly. "I'm not the one being hurt like you are. If it was in my power, I would do something for you, but I...I'm nothing. I'm not even a human being in the views of society." Liz said nothing to my angry words, merely gazing at me with a tender expression that tore my insides apart. I was terrible to be keeping her to myself. She deserved a white man that could give her a worthwhile life. I would be sold off and if she conceived my child, she would be beaten to death, I just know it. How could I ever deserve this perfect angel? She doesn't even think of her own painful life!
"You misunderstand me, Raphael. I don't mean that I'll keep you from my husband's whip." She dropped her gaze and took my hands in hers, kissing them. "I want to keep you from slavery. That's all I have to offer you now. Mr. Bradson, an abolitionist I know well, will be taking selected slaves tomorrow night on the Underground Railroad. I'm begging you – please go with them."
"Liz!" My cry of anguish hurt us both. Her face constricted as she kept the tears at bay. "No! I won't leave you to – "
"Please, Raphael. I would never ask you anything but this. I...I must know that you're safe. You will be. Mr. Bradson has never had a failed mission." She pulled my face down and kissed me, pleading with me to agree to it. I was horrified to taste her tears on my mouth with my own tears. With a moan of agony, I dropped my head on her shoulder, slumping beside her and curling up next to her like a dog. She had asked little of me, had protected my secret, and me, and let me love her; let me experience what it was like to be in love with such a wonderful woman. The least I could for her was this. Liz seemed to sense that I was agreeing because she was crying as much as I was. "I love you, Raphael," she whispered.
My smile was bitter and mournful as I answered, "And I love you."
Barney and I were taken from the barn the next night. That day, Master Rowling was gone the entire day, no doubt furious from yesterday's occurrences with his wife. Knowing what was about to happen, I spent the entire day with Liz. If she hadn't been delivered my seed before, now she must by the many times I made love to her. I never wanted to let her go or allow her to leave my sight. It was only at night after dinner that I had to say my farewells. She wouldn't come with me, which was no surprise. Without any discretion, she threw her arms around me and kissed me hard, shoving her locket in my hands and then dismissing me with damp eyes. Before, the locket had had a picture of her mother in it, but she had replaced it for me with a picture of herself.
It was the finest gift she could have given me.
Mr. Bradson inclined his head to us when Barney and I delved down into the tunnels with the other familiar slaves. There was only the light of his lamp after he had covered the entrance. He gave us brief instructions and then we were off, trudging down through the stifling tunnels. A few slaves were whispering, seeing as how he was allowing that much.
"Raphael," Barney murmured. I glanced to him sullenly. I knew my eyes were puffy from crying, but cared little. He had known of my affair with Liz and I accepted that much. "I am so sorry." I shook my head in answer, saying nothing. "...I know how much you loved her, how much she loved you. I wish...I wish that neither of you had to endure this. You're a good man, Raphael, and Miss Elizabeth was the best white woman I think I'll ever meet."
"...Yes," I agreed in a hoarse voice, "she certainly was, Barney."
XFour Years Later...
Barney and I had been living in Canada for some time in a small town where other blacks were. This was where Mr. Bradson brought all his slaves. From time to time, Barney and I would assist in the Railroad, but we preferred to stay on the safe side. Canada was as safe as we could get, seeing as how anyone from the United States had no jurisdiction in this entirely different country. Instead of parting, we stayed together, preferring each other's company to anyone else's. I learned later that Barney had been married once, but his wife died in childbirth and the child died thereafter.
Liz never sent me any letters with Mr. Bradson, nor any letters through the mail. I understood it was risky, but I never gave up hope. Eventually, the hope came in the manner of Mr. Bradson and two slaves: an elderly man and a tiny boy of a strange color of skin. Barney and I were sitting outside, fixing our crops and cleaning the place around our modest home when they came.
"Raphael," Mr. Bradson greeted solemnly, inclining his head. I mimicked the gesture, glancing at the two blacks, wondering what it could be that they were here for. "I have some unfortunate news for you." Barney stiffened beside me, preparing for my breakdown. I had known that if I ever got news of Liz's death, it would be through Mr. Bradson. "Miss Elizabeth is no longer able to help in the Railroad. The lady...she had passed away."
"In what manner, Mr. Bradson?" I asked quietly. He averted his gaze, hiding whatever emotions that had risen in his light eyes.
"Surely you can imagine how, sir, if you were on intimate terms with her," he stiffly answered. I nodded mutely, finding nothing to say about that. He knew quite well just how intimate I was with her. I had always known that after I left nothing would keep her from letting herself be beaten to her death. The abuse always got worse in the end, as well, and I predicted this would happen. I just wish I had been able to see her one last time. "In any case..." He swept his hand out to the two slaves. "This is Daniel and his godfather, Heath." I raised an eyebrow at Mr. Bradson in question and he added softly, "Your son, Daniel."
"My...?" I turned an astonished gaze to him.
"From what Heath has told me, Mr. Rowling kept him alive so that he could work on the plantation. Miss Elizabeth had fought as long as she could for him, Raphael, and when she discovered he would be sold, she begged me to take him to you." He grimaced and withdrew some paper from his coat pocket. "And a letter." I took it slowly, parting the papers and, seeing the date, found that the letter was nearly a month old.
My Dearest Raphael,
I have resisted the temptation of writing to you before to keep us both safe. If any of the letters were to fall into the wrong hands, we would both be doomed and I couldn't allow that. Mr. Bradson has wanted me to write before and then he demanded I write this letter. I trust him with this one because it will be the only one you'll ever see. I have to throw myself to that monster for our son, Raphael.
If not for my husband's twisted, greedy personality, he might have killed me when I was pregnant with Daniel or killed him when he was born. I'm relieved he kept him alive. I promised myself that one day, I would send him to you through Mr. Bradson so that he could be with his father. You both are so similar, Raphael. God, it is amazing how much he looks like you.
But, not everything is great, and my husband certainly is not. He wants to sell Daniel – he is a good worker in the fields – and I can't allow that. Mr. Bradson wasn't due to take slaves on the Railroad for awhile, but he agreed to go early, knowing how desperate I was to get Daniel to you. By the time Daniel arrives in Canada, I know I shall be dead. Edgar will know how he escaped and he's already promised Daniel to someone. He'll have to return their money and he loathes to do so.
Above all, Raphael, I wanted to tell you that I never forgot you for a moment. I prayed for your safe arrival and was so happy to find that you were doing well in Canada with Barney. Mr. Bradson tried to coax me into going to Canada so that I could be with you, but I had to care for the slaves here and make sure they could get to Mr. Bradson safely. I wanted to go. My heart has never failed in loving you as I hope that yours has never, either. If you are angry because I declined all these offers, than I understand well. Please just never hate me. That is all I ask of you.
But this letter must stop. I have told you what I can. I imagine Daniel will get to you in good condition. Be patient with him, Raphael, if he proves difficult. I know that he will learn to accept and love you as his father.
Loves and Yours Eternally,
I let out a groan and dropped the letter. Barney hastily grabbed a hold of me, keeping me upright. "Elizabeth," I muttered weakly. "Liz..." I slid out of Barney's hands and slumped on the ground, clutching at the locket with her picture encased inside. I had lost so much in this damned life and even though I knew I would eventually lose her, it hurt. I heaved in deep breaths, hoping to calm myself and keep the tears at bay.
I started in surprise as my three-year-old son touched the hand that clutched my locket. He was staring at me with a sad expression. I released the locket and opened it, letting him see it. "I love your mother, little Daniel," I whispered to him. He stroked the picture with tenderness and his mouth trembled.
"Mama," he gurgled before breaking into loud wails and pushing his face into my chest, clutching at me. I hugged him, hiding my own tears in his dark hair. His pain passed more quickly than me, having had a longer time to grieve over her death than myself. In a breathless whisper he queried, "My...papa?"
"Yes," I sighed, rubbing his back, "I'm your papa."
In the end, I still had one last thing that Liz had been desperate to deliver to me. Even if I couldn't raise Daniel with the woman I loved, I would have to settle with my best and only friend. After giving farewells to Mr. Bradson and Heath, who would be settled in a home only a few houses from us, Barney and I went inside with me cradling Daniel in my arms and Liz's letter folded in my pocket.
"Do you think you can do it, Raphael?" Barney queried, glancing at my son. "Do you think you can raise a son without a wife?" I looked down at the boy in my arms that was a mix on Liz's looks and mine. I smiled slightly.
"Why not? You'll be helping." Barney chuckled, but didn't disagree.
Freedom always came with a heavy price. I guess I had always known I would have to pay with something so precious to me as Liz.Finis
Kanna-sama: I hate sad endings, but this was a more fitting ending than that of a happy one. I felt satisfied with this story, but what do you guys think? Leave a review on your way out, please. I'd like to hear what you think. Ciao!