The sun beat down in an especially cruel manner the next day, but Alice chose to sit outside by the fire and ready a good meal for Megedagik and the children should they return to the lodge. Mansi did not disappoint her. Just as the sun was creeping up over the trees, Alice stepped outside after Megedagik to see him off for the day and press him further regarding his threat from the night before. Just moments later, before they could fully engage in a vicious battle of words, Mansi turned the corner, skipping happily down the trail.
"We will discuss this when you return," Alice informed Megedagik, carefully draping the wolf pelt sash over his shoulder.
"There is nothing to discuss," he responded.
"There is much to discuss. And we –"
She was slammed into by a little body, slender brown arms wrapping tightly around her middle, round face pressing firmly into her middle. Alice smiled and placed her arms around the little girl.
"Good morning, Alice," she said, turning her smiling face up toward her.
"Good morning, beautiful," Alice greeted and placed a soft touch to her cheek. She went to hug her father, who greeted her kindly.
"We will speak of it later," Alice said again. Megedagik readied to leave.
"We will not," he answered. "My decision is made."
"Hassun," she hissed at his back as he walked toward Powhatan's lodge. He did not turn to look back at her. She glared a moment longer and then looked back down at Mansi. She asked the little girl with a smile, "How about we make some tea, and you tell me all about Huritt."
"I don't like Huritt anymore," Mansi said.
"You don't?" Alice called in surprise. "Mansi, I can't keep all these boys straight."
"I like Songan now."
"Songan, huh?" Alice teased. Strong. Mansi blushed and giggled. "And how old is this Songan."
Mansi rolled her lips together and held her hands behind her back, swaying from side to side as Alice poured the boiling water over the leaves.
"Mansi?" Alice asked severely.
"He's gone through his trials… he has fifteen summers."
"Fifteen!" Alice cried. "No, you are far too young."
"I will be a grown woman in no time at all!" she protested.
"Have you bled yet?" Alice asked. It could have happened in her absence. She hoped she hadn't.
"No," Mansi mumbled, taking no note of Alice's unease. She added more forcefully, "But I will soon, I know it! I'm of that age."
"Well, until you've bled, fifteen is far too old," Alice replied.
"Tell me this," Alice cut her off. "Have you spoken to Songan, or have you watched the boys play games in the field and found him most appealing to look at."
Mansi blushed. "He said hello to me this morning."
"Ah, on your way here I suppose?" Alice asked her pointedly. "Hence the swift change from Huritt to Songan since yesterday evening."
Mansi's shy reaction informed her that was exactly what happened.
Alice glanced down the trail. Megedagik had told her that he would send Sarah along with her child shortly after he left. Every moment that passed was agony. She longed to see her dear sweet friend again, and in good health, but she could think of little else but holding her child's warm, soft body against hers.
"Tell me, what do you know of this boy?" Alice asked.
"He has completed his trials. His father is on Powhatan's counsel with Papa."
"Well, before you consider yourself in love, take some time to know him better, yes?"
"I will," Mansi said. "It will be hot today? Hear the cicadas? Can we go swimming."
"Oh, honey, I'm not allowed to leave the walls," she told her.
"Because you're a prisoner," Mansi said sadly. "You don't want to be here."
Alice sat down beside her. "Sweetie, I told you, I came back on my own. I want to be here. I promise." She ran her hand over Mansi's hair. "Alright?" Mansi nodded, a moment's pause, and then she leaned into Alice, wrapping her arms around her middle. "I missed you."
"I missed you too, sweetheart," she vowed. "How was Ahote last night?"
"He's pouting," she said. "He'll get over it." Mansi did not seem very concerned.
Alice was not so sure. Curiously, she asked, "What do you think of White Men, Mansi?"
"Papa says you live in wooden buildings, and you dress very funny, and I don't think any other tribe on earth has such strange skin. Papa says you have odd ways but does not explain it."
"Do you think we are evil?" she asked. Mansi frowned.
"Evil? Some of you, I'm sure, but you aren't evil? So, how can you all be evil?"
Alice smiled at her, pet the back of her head a few more times, and then turned to readying the days meal.
"Alice!" Mansi called a bit later. She dropped the doll she had been making and stood to run down the road. Alice turned her head and her breath left her. She found the bright blond head of Sarah in the distance, a little child strapped to her back, and another by the hand, toddling in a controlled fall and choppy movements alongside her mother. Mansi scooped up the little girl and gave her face a kiss.
Sarah was free to move more quickly. As she approached, Alice's eyes widened. She had a hand on her stomach, steps kept wide, giving her the appearance of a little waddle.
"Sarah!" she cried in excitement. Sarah smile and looked down at her belly. "A month or so, not any longer. I hope it's a boy."
By the time they came together, she had finished speaking and the embraced each other tightly. Alice looked at her plump little boy over Sarah's shoulder and leaned forward to kiss his face. Sarah pulled back and loosed a strap above her swollen belly. She gently swung the board to the side and lowered the boy to the ground. She removed him expertly from the board and then heaved him up and handed him over to Alice.
Alice placed kisses all over him. The little boy squirmed away from her and Alice relented. "Oh, thank you, Sarah, for taking such good care of my boy."
Sarah smiled and nodded, eyes on the child affectionately. "He's a good boy. I know it doesn't look like it, but you'll see it, sometimes he makes these faces, and oh Alice, you can see William in there."
Alice lowered herself down by the fire with her son. Mansi settled close by with Maggie in her lap. Sarah lowered herself down in the with the contorted grace of a pregnant woman ready to pop.
Alice situated the boy so he was on her lap, facing her. He stared at her, eyes quizzical. "What a handsome baby. He'll have Megedagik's nose, God help him," Alice joked. Sarah chuckled. She looked very tired, but had a genuine smile on her face as she looked between the boy to her daughter.
"But those are my eyes," Alice whispered. She looked back at Sarah. "Truly, Sarah, thank you."
Sarah just smiled again, eyes on her son. It was an odd look that Alice could not place. She chose not to waste time on it, and instead looked down to her son once again. Alice talked to the child as she used to talk to William, and though the boy was hesitant at first, he soon discovered she meant no harm, he began enjoying the sound and erupted into giggles. He eventually squirmed from her arms and sat on his bottom on the ground. He next tried to crawl on her, eventually getting himself up to stand on shaky, bowed legs, his hands balled into meaty fists on her dress. He looked toward Sarah and reached out. Alice quickly reached up and lowered his hand. She tried to draw his attention back toward her.
"All he wants to do is walk," Sarah mused. "He's up on his feet all the time, but he can't control his steps yet."
"William used to do this," Alice smiled as the little boy bounced up and down. She hadn't had such peace in a very long time. She pinched his chubby thighs gently. The boy stomped his feet and squealed in delight. He turned around to look at Sarah. He let go of Alice, lowered himself to the ground, and began crawling in Sarah's direction.
"Watch the fire," Alice said, scooping up the little boy. Alice fought down the sour taste in her mouth and put her son back into her lap. He struggled a moment and then turned red, letting out a scream of protest. Alice's cheeks flushed and she bit down on her tongue as Sarah rose.
"Oh, give him here, come here, baby," Sarah said. Alice watched her with hard eyes as she took her child into her arms and settled back down, cooing to him gently, jostling him into a comfortable rocking. The child fell silent, content to be in the loving arms of the woman he believed was his mother.
Alice's throat went dry. She continued to stare, face flushed and blotches erupting over her chest.
"He get's a little cranky," Sarah told him, eyes on the baby. "He might be hungry. I'm switching him over to the mash for the most part. Breast milk just isn't filling him up anymore."
She took out a small jar from the pouch on the board she had carried him on.
"I will feed him," Alice said, desperate to have her child back in her arms.
"Oh, I can do it," Sarah said dismissively. "It's not a problem. Do we want mash?" she asked Alice's son with a bright smile.
"I want to do it," Alice spoke more firmly this time.
"It's not a problem," Sarah dismissed again. "Honestly, I'd rather do it myself."
"That's my decision," Alice snapped. Sarah looked at her in surprise. She laughed, somewhat wooden.
"Well, I … don't you think it's better for me to do it. He'll be calmer this way."
"He's my son. I want to feed him."
Sarah hesitated, set her jaw, and then, silently, handed the child back over. The babe fussed a moment, and just when Alice was about to give in to Sarah's smug smile and hand him back over, he began to eat. He watched Alice intently as he took each spoonful of mash, brow raising and then knitting together and then rising again.
"He will grow comfortable with me," Alice murmured. "Soon, he'll know I'm mama."
When Sarah said nothing, Alice looked up at her. Her gaze was on the baby boy. Her nostrils were slightly flared, her lips together but jaw jutted out to the side, eyes unblinking. Alice said nothing. She looked back at the boy. He was clearly very happy chomping on his mash.
"You are hoping for a boy?" Alice finally asked, hoping to ease some of the tension.
"Hmm?" Sarah asked, ripping her stare from the baby and lifting her eyebrows. "Oh, yes, I think Ahanu hopes for a boy as well, though he will not say so."
"Do you… have you any fear?" Alice began. She considered the child growing in her belly now.
"Am I frightened he will love Maggie less, once he has a child he knows is his own? Of course, but I think I would be more concerned if Maggie did not come first. He has treated Maggie as his own from the first."
"But he believed she was his when first born," Alice pointed out. "It did not become clear until later that he did not father her. And even now, there is no way to say for certain she is not his –"
"Alice, look at the child and tell me Ahanu is the father," Sarah said dryly.
"I only mean, how is one to know for sure. Little Jane looked nothing like Lawrence."
"Perhaps, but I know in my heart, as does Ahanu. She is not his daughter."
"But what if he knew for certain? What if your condition arose and it was impossible for him to have fathered her? And what if he had other children before this child and –"
"How far along are you?" Sarah asked. Alice hesitated.
"About three or four months," she finally answered. "It is Lawrence's. That child is not a white child," Alice said, pointing at Maggie. "The possibility this child will be born with light hair… blue eyes. Both Jane and William had blue eyes. And Jane's hair was not as dark as mine."
"Were it any other man but Megedagik I would caution you. I do not think you have anything to fear with him."
"I left my son because I knew what would happen to him if he was raised in Jamestown… and now I've returned, and threaten to do the very same for this child."
"Why did you return?" Sarah asked. She glanced down at the baby in Alice's arms. Alice placed another heaping spoonful into his mouth. He giggled and a little blob of orange goo spilled down his chin. Sarah leaned forward with a little rag and cleaned his mouth. "I don't like letting him make a mess."
"I let babies be babies," Alice answered, a surge of annoyance rushing through her. Sarah said nothing, but put the rag to the side with a sigh and made a face that indicated she disagreed. Unable to help herself, and with another rush of annoyance and a vicious stab of insecurity, said quite sharply, "He's not your child, Sarah. He's mine."
"I'm aware of that, Alice," Sarah bit back sharply.
"Are you? Because it doesn't seem that way."
"Forgive me, but I've raised your child since you abandoned him."
"Abandoned… you know my reasons," she snapped. Mansi was watching with wide eyes, looking back and forth between the two. It was impossible to know how much of the conversation she understood, considering the speed in which they spoke, but since the mention of a new baby, she had been listening intently.
"I would never have been able to leave Maggie," Sarah spoke with an air of superiority. "I could never leave my child behind."
"Then you love yourself more than you love her," Alice snapped back.
"How dare you," Sarah said. "How dare you."
"How dare I? How dare you." They're voices were beginning to rise, drawing the attention of those outside of their nearest neighbors.
"You leave and then just come back a year later like nothing happened?" Sarah asked.
"Would you rather I didn't come back?" Alice asked. Sarah looked down at the little boy. Alice scooped him up and stood. He began to fuss and Sarah jumped to her feet. "You can leave Sarah."
"I will," she answered. She stepped forward to seize the little boy. Alice turned her body, face contorted in disbelief.
"Not with my child."
"I'm not leaving here without him," Sarah answered. Alice glanced toward their curious looking neighbors.
"Kitchi," Alice called. A young man stood from the nearby fire and came over. "Please remove her from my fire."
He looked to Sarah and held out an arm. Sarah's jaw trembled with rage. Alice told her, "This isn't Jamestown, Sarah."
Sarah collected Maggie, angry tears in her eyes. "You shouldn't have come back," Sarah muttered, blinking rapidly.
She turned and walked away. Alice's body was trembling somewhat. She thanked Kitchi.
"Maskanna," he said respectively and then walked away. Alice turned on her heel and went into the lodge. She threw the flap to the lodge to the side angrily. She paced a few moments, gently rocking the fussing baby in her hands. Her face was hot and her muscles trembled.
"Alice?" she heard Mansi come into the lodge. Her voice was small and confused. "Are you having a baby?"
Alice turned to face her. She sighed. She had hoped to tell her more gently.
"Come sit with me," she told Mansi. She sat down on the furs and then handed her baby boy the rattle his father had made for him. He calmed and occupied himself with the simple little toy.
"Yes, sweetie, I'm going to have another a baby."
"But it isn't papa's," she said knowingly.
"No sweetie, it is my husband's."
Mansi considered. "So, I won't really be its sister?"
"No," she said simply, sadly.
Mansi considered further. "It will be like the baby you lost. The one that man murdered?"
Alice swallowed thickly as she thought of little William. She could only nod.
"I will still be a sister to it," she decided firmly. Alice looked at her a moment longer and then held out an arm to her.
"Come here, my sweet girl," she beckoned. Mansi leaned into the embrace. Alice placed her cheek on the top of her head. She murmured, "I missed you so much."
"I missed you too."
She closed her eyes, leaned into the little girl, and did her best not to cry.
Sarah marched into the little clearing and immediately began to call to her husband. Her voice was hoarse and tears bit angrily at her eyes.
"Wawetseka?" Ahanu asked as he lowered his hatchet to his workshop table.
"She just took him!" she cried, voice cracking.
Ahanu's dark eyes moved over Sarah. She took the fussing Maggie from her with wide eyes. Sarah paced, shaking her head, hands on her hips.
"She leaves for a year and comes back! I raised that child not her! An entire year! And she comes back like…like…"
"Wawetseka, please, you'll hurt the baby," Ahanu said, seizing her by the elbow and gently guiding her to sit by the unlit fire. Sarah burst into tears and buried her face in her hands.
"I hate her," Sarah sobbed. "Why'd she come back?"
"You are not happy she has returned? Is this not what you wanted? You pray for it every night."
"I didn't think… I…" she rubbed her eyes hard. She felt Ahanu move away from her. She glanced up and watched Ahanu collect Maggie from the base of the work bench. The little girl wailed as she was taken away from the sharp tools. Ahanu retrieved a little block of honey and the little girl fell silent.
"I'm going to lose that baby," Sarah sniffled. Her face crumpled. "That child should be with me."
Ahanu gently stroked the back of her head. He offered softly, "In many families, the child does not live with the mother, but her brother…"
"Well not in mine," she snapped.
"You will see the child still." Sarah nodded angrily. It soon morphed into the shaking of her head.
"It isn't right," Sarah whispered. "It isn't fair."
"You will see the child still. The child will love you."
"If I knew she was coming back… I could have…" her face crumpled again. She leaned in against her husband. He wrapped his arms around her, large, strong hands resting on her belly.
"You are a wonderful mother," he murmured to her. "And you did right by that baby."
"She can't just come back and take him from me," Sarah whispered. Her eyes were heavy. She looked down at Maggie. She grinned and held the little block of honey up to her.
"Honey!" she called. Sarah smiled and opened her arms. Maggie clamored into her arms.
"Can I have a kiss?" she asked her daughter. The little girl pressed her open mouth to Sarah's. Sarah wrapped her arms around the girl and held her tightly.
"Don't cry," Maggie said. She wiped her hand down her wet cheek. "Mama sad?"
"Mommy's not sad," she lied. "Feel here, Maggie. He's moving."
The little girl put her hand on her stomach. Her dark eyes turned wide and her mouth opened. A little smile came to Sarah's face. Still, she could not help but miss that little boy. A tremor of panic rushed through her. She needed the child with her. Every fiber of her being trembled in a rush of loss and anxiety.
"I wish she hadn't come back," Sarah admitted softly. Ahanu nodded thoughtfully. He gently stroked her cheek. She whispered again, "I wish she hadn't come back."
Megedagik sat crosslegged to Powhatan's right. He listened to Kono make his report with growing apprehension.
"The Squash Eaters ae gone," he said. "The White Men released the prisoners with a promise of peace, followed them back to their village, and killed every man, woman, and child. The village is now nothing but ash."
"Was this before or after their request for this summit?" Powhatan asked gravely.
"It is impossible to know," Kono answered.
"The summit must be canceled," Megedagik said gravely.
"We should not abandon a chance at peace," Manipi disagreed. "All on the word of a White Woman?"
"These White Men have proven their word cannot be trusted," Nayati said. "The summit cannot proceed."
"We have lost over twenty villages," Kono said. "Everyday, more come flooding into our larger cities. It must come to an end. Already, many of us will not survive the winter. If we will have any hope, we need to be able to plant our winter crops in safety."
"All of their attacks have been reprisals to our own. I think peace is ascertainable," Manipi pushed.
"We cannot gather all the paramount chiefs together in a single place. A massacre will destroy the confederacy," Nayati cautioned. "The lesser chiefs submit to our King's rule because they are kept safe. They will turn on us."
"If we do not secure peace, they most certainly will," Kono flipped his argument.
"Megedagik?" Powhatan asked. "You have been quiet."
"The Maskaanna is reliable. She has a child in this village. If she says the summit is a trap, it is a trap."
"That does not mean it needs to be canceled," Manipi argued. "Only that we must be cautious."
"We can require that they disarm,"Kono said.
"You think they would agree to that?" Nayati sneered.
"They would require we disarm as well," even Manipi did not seem convinced.
"Bring me the Maskaanna," Powhatan ordered. Megedagik rose without a word and left the lodge. When he returned to hislodge, he was surprised to find the Pale One missing. He stepped inside and found the Maskaanna lying down beside their napping son. Mansi was on the other side of the boy, apparently napping as well. The Maskanna was awake, propped up on her elbow, gazing down at the child.
She had been crying. Her eyes were puffy. He assumed it had to do with the Pale One's absence.
"Powhatan wishes to speak with you," he told her. "Mansi can care for the boy in our absence."
Mansi lifted her head and nodded. "She is young," the Maskaanna observed.
"She has watched children before. Come. We do not make the King wait."
The Maskanna got to her feet and walked out of the lodge. "I really don't care if your king must wait."
Megedagik waited until Mansi sat up and gave him a nod before he followed the Maskaanna. She was already walking toward the King's lodge.
"Where is the Pale One?"
"She left," she answered coldly.
"I would think that you would have a lot to talk about."
"I don't want to talk right now," she said, keeping her strides long and steady. He stopped her before they entered the lodge.
"Do not disrespect the King," he warned her. "He may respect you, but he will not tolerate insolence from a white woman."
"I will be perfectly polite."
Megedagik looked her over with those dark eyes. He put a hand on either shoulder. He touched her cheek. His hand was warm. His hand dropped and he gently nudged her inside the inner chamber. The council remained outside, watching her enter with cold eyes. She met them without fear, staring down each one as she passed by to the greater room. She flipped the buck skin flap to the side and stepped in. Megedagik followed. She paused by the door.
She stared out at the king through the smoky air of the lodge. The fire burned hot. Megedagik's gaze flickered downward. A fat bead of sweat dripped down the back of her neck.
"You may leave us, Megedagik," the King spoke. Megedagik's eyes darted up from the bead of sweat. He was unable to watch it glisten down her neck and between her shoulder blades. He registered the King's words slowly. His voice was a low rumble. The King's dark brow lifted when he made no move to retreat. "Megedagik?"
"I will be fine," the Maskaanna said. Megedagik looked down at her. She was well respected within this village; for her own actions as well as her status as Megedagik's chosen woman., but that did not mean she was safe from his King's wrath. Stripped, beaten, and killed, was not an uncommon punishment for those who insulted the King.
The Maskaanna's eyes shimmered. "I promise."
He gave a nod to her. He retreated quietly and joined the others. Not a word was said among any of them. Megedagik waited, counting each violent thud of his heart against his chest.
Alice stared at the savage king. If it were not for this man, her son would still be alive. She wouldn't hear the crack of his skull every night when she went to sleep. She wouldn't see his pale, bloody body, slowly being covered in dirt.
She stepped closer, avoiding the low burning fires, and stopped in front of him. The King stared back, leaning back on his throne, a small smile on his lips. She hated herself for flinching as he stood. It was sudden, but not without grace. He slowly descended the steps of the platform. He towed above her. These savages were tall people. She remained still as he lifted his hand. He touched her face very gently. Finger light touches on her skin.
"I told my fighters to kill every man, woman, and child, they could find," he told her. "If I recall, your son was beaten over the head with a hammer?"
"Yes. It shattered his skull."
"Did he weep at all? Or was it fast?"
"He cried before. I think…" she paused to collect herself. She would not cry before this man. "I think his death was fast."
"I am pleased to hear that." His brow lifted. "Does that surprise you? I do not wish your people pain. I take no great joy in ordering the deaths of children."
"Did you bring me here for me to relive the death of my son?"
"I am curious, why a woman that has no reason but to hate us, has come to save us?"
"I hate you," she said plainly. "While I was with my husband, he went away to Jamestown. I would go to the river. One day, I saw three young men coming in from the coast. I gave them lodging, food, a safe place to spend the night. And at some point, it occurred to me, that these three young men killed my friends. They came into my town, and pretended they were friends, and when my friend's backs were turned, they picked up whatever tools they could find, and stabbed them in the back. And I let them sleep on the floor by my fire, while I slept in the next room…"
She paused. What was the point of telling that story? His eyes twinkled. He seemed equally as intrigued.
"I realized that I don't have a life there anymore. All my family remains in England. My son is dead… I only have Lawrence and… he's the man I married, but I'm not the same woman. My son is here. Megedagik's children, I love as my own. Sarah… I do hate you…" she shook her head. She looked back at him. "I don't know why I'm here. I shouldn't be. We call you savage. I think you use the word savage… I think you are a savage. I do not like you. I do not respect you. But I do love Megedagik. I love his children. I love my child. The moment I could, I left. I had to tell him. I couldn't… if Megedagik died… who would care for my children?"
The savage King's eyes twinkled. He stared at her. His eyes were dark and terrible, intense, intelligent… they might be violent people, but they were not stupid people.
"I believe you," he said. "I regret your hatred of me. I might consider a white wife otherwise."
His hand touched her face again and she smacked his hand away. He smiled and returned to his throne. When he turned to sit down, he was graver.
"What was said?"
"He told me that everyone at the summit would die. I do not know how. He did not tell me and I did not ask. He is a captain. It's like… like what Megedagik is here. He knows things. He would not have said it if it wasn't true."
"Your husband, what kind of man is he?"
"He is a good man. An honest man."
"All he said to you, was that at the summit, we would all die?"
"And you asked for no other details?"
"I cannot tell you."
The King considered. He stared at her with those dark, terrible eyes. "Send them back in. You may go."
She turned without another word. Her hands trembled and her face was flushed. As she swatted the flap to the outer chamber aside, heads darted up. Dark eyes fixed on her intensely. She did not look away. Instead, she made sure to look at each man closely. Something came to mind.
"Who is Songan's father?"
All eyes turned to a man who elevated his chin slightly. He brought his brow together and his mouth hardened.
"Nayati," the man said, giving his name. Alice gave a nod. She looked at Megedagik.
"May I return home now?"
"In a moment," he answered. She nodded.
"You may all go back inside."
They all funneled back inside, save Megedagik. "Where is the Pale One?"
Alice's lips pressed together firmly. "She does not seem to understand that I am the boy's mother and that I have returned. I don't want her watching the child anymore."
"She is all he has known. Do you believe that is in his best interest?"
"Is his best interest not being with his true mother? The one he shares blood with?"
Megedagik considered. His name was spoken from the other side of the flap.
"I trust you to make the correct decision," he said.
"The matter of my husband?" she called as he turned to go back inside. He paused and looked back at her.
"Is settled," he answered curtly. He stepped inside and let the tent flap fall. She had half a mind to go in after him, but she knew she could not. She walked from the lodge, paying the guards outside no mind. Despite wanting to return to her child, she could the long loop back. It was hot, the air still, but she needed to clear her head. She stopped at a lodge to share a drink of water with a woman that had been kind to her in the early days. Then she moved back on, to her awaiting children.
A small part of her thought she was going to arrive and find Ahote there waiting for her. She imagined the warm little hug as he ran up to tell her how much he had missed her. Even when she arrived to find Mansi alone with her babe at the fire, she held out hope he might be inside, fetching his sling shot or rummaging through the salted fish.
She took the boy from Mansi's arms and cradled him closely. He smiled at her. She felt her heart swell with love once again. She'd left because it was right, not because she did not love him. She did not abandon him.
Still, guilt weighed on her heart. How much she'd missed with him. She held him close again, smelling his hair. He would grow up to be like his father, she thought proudly. Stoic but kind, brave and strong. And the baby growing inside of her? Would she see Lawrence everyday for the rest of her life, knowing his death was on her hands. A good, honest man, dead because she had broken her vows to lay with a murderous savage, and live in bark huts on dirt floors amongst non-Christian heathens.
Eternity was a long time and she did not like the heat.
"Did you talk to the King?" Mansi asked. She looked over at her.
"Yes, I did," she answered and put the boy on the floor.
"What happened to us… that is what happened to you?" Mansi asked. Alice played with her son's hair and nodded silently, eyes on the steaming pot of beans she had left behind. Mansi said nothing. "Are we mad at Sarah?"
Alice laughed softly and sadly. "I am mad at Sarah, Mansi, we are not."
Mansi got up and sat down beside Alice. She rested her head on her shoulder. Alice put her arm around the girl. Cicadas buzzed loudly in the air. She would get used to the heat.
Megedagik returned after sunset. The debate had been grueling, and though no new arguments were introduced, everyone felt the need to be the last to speak. The King eventually sent them off with the order that they would return to him tomorrow morning to continue the discussion. By sunset tomorrow, he would have his decision.
He arrived home to find Alice and Mansi eating. Mansi was gently spooning mash into his son's mouth. His heart grew warm as he gazed at his little family, and he lamented that Ahote was not there. His eyes briefly went to the Maskaanna's stomach. He wondered if he could love the white child as he loved his own children. It would not matter. If he did love it less, the child and its mother would never know. He would be sure of that.
"It is late," he rumbled.
"I have diner for you."
"I will eat when I return. It is time for the babe to go to sleep."
Alice collected the child from Mansi and put her face into his hair. He protested as she wiped down his messy face, but she cradled him and eventually he calmed.
"He must be weaned," Alice said, rocking him gently. "It is earlier than I stopped with William, but he is strong and will not cause harm. I think in the morning and at bed time to start. Then just before bed. Once weaned and can come back to stay with me."
Megedagik observed her with the child a few more moments before speaking. He was not so sure the child should be weaned yet. It would be a hard winter. A supply of breast milk would ease the strain on them. He chose to say nothing. "I will bring him to Awanata."
"No," she said curtly. Megedagik waited. "No," she said more softly, rocking the child. He was tired. He lay his head down on his mother's shoulder. Her eyes closed. She enjoyed the boy's warmth. "He should be with Sarah until he's weaned. He knows her. No other will care for him as well as she."
The Maskaanna lifted her head. "You will tell her he will be weaned and that you will collect him tomorrow morning. He will be returned to her in the evening."
"I will tell her," Megedagik said, heart warming at her decision.
"He's my son," she said. She placed a kiss to the top of his head. "I understand how hard this must be… but I'm back and he's young enough. I am his mother."
"You are," Megedagik agreed. She placed one more kiss to the child's head. She handed him over.
"I understand what she did for me… and I appreciate she cares for him… he's not her son. He is mine."
"You need not convince me."
She surrendered the child to him.
The air outside the lodge was warm. The breeze was comforting. He juggled the child gently. He was a handsome babe. He cooed softly. A meaty hand flew forward and caught Megedagik's nose. He heard an owl in the distance. The boy's eyes widened and he lifted his head upward. He put his hand out, clawing at the unseen bird.
"Whoo," Megedagik said softly. "Whoo."
"Whah, wha," the boy said. Off in the distance there was a gentle hum.
"Whoo. Whoo," Megedagik repeated.
"Wha, wooh," his son repeated.
The child was asleep when he arrived. The Pale One sat at the fire, elbows to knees, face in hands, and Askuweteau had a gentle hand to her back. Her head snapped up as he approached. Her eyes were red and puffy. She had been crying. At the sight of the babe, she jumped to her feet.
"The Maskaanna has decided the babe will be safest with you," he said. The little boy smiled at the sight of his caretaker and reached out to her. "You will begin to wean him. In the morning and before bed. I will retrieve him in the morning and bring him back in the evening."
"I cannot see him during the day?" she asked, cradling the tired boy closely.
"I do not think she wants you at her fire for the time being. The boy must learn who his mother is."
"If I could, Megedagik? She's raised the boy. It's cruel to –"
"I was clear from the beginning that you were not to replace his mother," Megedagik spoke to the Pale One. "Your attachment is no fault of mine nor is it a fault of hers." Askuweteau stepped closer. Megedagik spoke before he could. "The Maskanna does not intend to keep him from you. Until they can bond, you will stay away."
"And how long will that be?" The Pale One demanded, angry tears returning to her shimmering blue eyes. "I'm more his mother than her! I'm the only mother he's ever known!"
Askuweteau placed a hand on either shoulder and hushed her, but she finished her outburst.
"The Maskaanna has made the decision that you will remain his wet nurse until he is fully weaned. She believes it is best for my son. There are few things I will refuse her, but if I decide that you cannot control yourself, I will find a wet nurse that can."
She said something under breath. It was in the white man's tongue. She turned her gaze back up at him. "I'm not a wet nurse." She sounded defeated. "If it is acceptable to you, I'm going to feed him and put him to bed. It is far past his normal bed time."
Megedagik gave a nod. With a defiant lift of the chin, Sarah turned and went back into the hut. Askuweteau remained outside. Megedagik said nothing. It appeared he had something to say and so Megedagik waited.
"None of us ever thought she would be back," the young warrior finally said. "She opened up her heart her to that child as her own."
"Shall I tell my woman that she must abandon her own child to another then?"
"No. No," Askuweteau said. "But I will not stand by while my wife is punished for the good she had done."
"You will protect your wife and I will protect mine. And that is my child. I never left."
"You visited often, and took the boy yes, but… it feels like our child."
"Our?" Megedagik asked.
"Understand, it will take time for her adjust."
"It is well understood," Megedagik responded. "Good night."
"Good night," Askuweteau said. Megedagik turned and walked into the darkness.