Posted on

INTO THE WOODS

That morning, Sarah had dressed herself properly after bathing with the fine ewer her father had only recently succumbed to letting her use. Previously he claimed that she was too young to use it, and might break the expensive porcelain. But she was older now and her father had consented to her bathing with it some months ago. In her estimation she was becoming a proper young lady, and would one day be the talk of all Salem. She had made sure her soft golden hair was modestly secured beneath her starched linen cap.
After helping with the morning chores, she had sat down to a light breakfast of bacon, porridge, eggs, fresh milk, & bread. Her mother had commented on the beauty of the rising sun as she broke her fast with her parents. It had been a typical morning with the promise of a new and enchanting day lain before her.
Now she enjoyed a morning constitutional walk as she had some free time before the afternoon chores. A mist had settled on the coastal village in the night, and it was presently lifting as Sarah followed a well worn path into the woods surrounding the village. She loved to hear stories of the hunters and trappers and their encounters with wild animals and wild natives. The stories were frightening and thrilling, and it scandalized Sarah to imagine herself embroiled in one of these adventures. There were stories of pirates and Indians; even cutthroats from the colonies themselves! They were surely the devil’s servants as the minister said. At least the natives and the beasts were ignorant of the fruit of the tree of good and evil. Only the children of Adam bore the sin of their forefathers. Some said the natives were men and in need of salvation, others said they were little more than beasts themselves. Sarah’s grandfather said the great Calvin had surmised that only a select few could earn passage to paradise, most were consigned by the Lord Himself to damnation from birth. Surely the naked savages were among the damned.
The fog was thicker in this part of the woods. Sarah couldn’t see her house from here. She couldn’t see any houses. Was that a war whoop she heard? Just a bird, surely. These trees; they hung on to winter longer than the others. Their long, leafless fingers seemed to beckon to her. Perhaps this part of the forest was enchanted? Sarah thought she had best not think such thoughts but they came to her unbidden. Had she no control over her own mind? Perhaps she should be getting back to the house. Through the whispering mists emerged a beautiful purple bush. What plant was this? It was like lavender, but smelled differently. What lovely flowers! Sarah had never seen any blossom so tempting! They must be safe, they weren’t apples as had tricked Eve and Adam so. Maybe with some nutrients in her stomach she could make sense of her surroundings. She picked several blossoms and gathered them in her skirt like she did when harvesting from the garden. She had seen the cunning folk gathering herbs out this way. Maybe these were some of their healing plants.
With something in her stomach, Sarah felt better. She began to hum a tune to herself that she had heard her mother sing. It was a mournful song about the Angels coming to gather a dying man to heaven. Though they sang a Capella, Sarah could hear the soft, distant drums of the natives and subconsciously sang in time to the earthy rhythm.
Sarah emerged into a thicket of ferns that were strikingly green after such deadened terrain. Sarah heard the crunch of a branch nearby, and let a gasp escape her lips. After a moments hesitation, she saw a boy her own age emerge from a crouch where he had been hiding. He was a native Wampanoag, naked except for a slim strip of leather which hung between his legs. Sarah could see it did little to cover the boy. He was dark brown and his skin glistened in the hazy light. His eyes were deep black and so beautiful! He had lashes like a girl, thought Sarah. His straight black hair framed his face and his lips parted in an unspoken question. Had he been following her?
“Were you spying on me?” she asked. She put her hands on her hips trying to take charge of the situation the way her mother did. She gripped her hips to steady her shaking hands. She wondered if the naked savage could hear her heart pound in her chest. As her mind whirled at the huge consequences this could have for her, she involuntarily took a breath to scream. The boy brazenly leaped right up to her and put his hand over her mouth, making her panic more acute. With his free hand, he put his finger to his lips and she could see that he was about as scared as she was. He took his golden hand away and motioned for her to crouch down as he did the same. He pulled aside a fern branch and she saw a group of naked savages armed with bows, knives and spears creep silently away. These were grown men on the hunt, she realized and this boy had just saved her from being discovered by them.
“Wuneekeesuq,” he whispered to her.
“Hello,” she replied. Everyone spoke a few words of Algonquin, and most of the savages spoke a little English too. He pointed in the opposite direction from the way the hunters were headed and the two crept silently in that direction. Sarah was fascinated by the naked boy. She had dreamt many times of meeting a native, and now that she had she could hardly believe it. He smelled of earth & pine; clean but aromatic somehow at the same time.
After a time, they came to a copse with a little hidden clearing in the middle hidden from view. Sarah felt safe here. “I’m Sarah” she said, motioning to herself.
“Little Bear,” said the boy, mimicking her motion.
“How come you’re naked?” she said in a scandalized whisper.
“How come you are not?” asked Little Bear.
This was a ridiculous question, Sarah knew, but as she was about to say this, she realized that it must be what all the Indians thought about the Puritans. “God has commanded that we cover our selves to hide our nakedness!” She hissed. She was sure that she would get a lickin’ for having such a conversation with a boy, let alone a naked savage boy. She was thrilled.
“The Great Grandfather of all has not shared this instruction with our people.” said Little Bear, “But most of the women do wear the two hide dress.” he conceded. “We all wear clothes in the winter.” A moment went by and the children began to look around for something to talk about. After a moment, the boy said, “Want to see some magic?” Sarah’s heart did a flip flop. She was both fascinated by and scared to death of real magic. This was a compelling blend of emotions that seemed to coming to her in wave after wave today. She swallowed in her suddenly dry throat and managed to nod. They sat facing each other with a little space between them. He reached behind her and pulled a leaf off of a plant and showed it to her. Little Bear put the leaf in the palm of his left hand and then cupped his right hand over it. “Aquit, Nees, Nis.” he said. “Now blow!” He held up his cupped hands for her to blow into, which she dutifully did.
Little Bear opened his hands and a butterfly with leaf shaped winds flew out and fluttered away. Sarah gasped and clapped her hands. “That is wonderful!” she said. Little Bear beamed happily.
“Now you.” he said.
“Me?” asked Sarah. “O.K.” she said. She thought for a moment. She didn’t know any real magic. But she had played games with her friends behind the neighbor’s barn after supper sometimes. The girls liked to cast the future and see who they were going to marry. Sarah drew a circle in the dirt between them. “Spit.” she commanded. She had learned from these games that it was important to act the part when it was your turn to cast a fortune. Little Bear spit into the circle causing an irregular, organic shape to form on the packed, damp earth. Sarah stared at the circle wondering what she should say. Boys liked mystery over romance, she was pretty sure. Indians sought adventure and glory.
“You will grow to be a powerful warrior.” she said. She saw his chest swell and he smiled. He was magical. “Your people will hold you in high regard. But there is one who will be your enemy. You will be rivals for the same woman. I cannot see who will win. You will face many dangers. In your old age you will be a tribal elder but you will still be bitter that you never vanquished the rival of your youth.” Sarah looked up to see the boy looked stunned. In fact, he was a little bit frightened. “Well,” she said, “What did you think?”
“That is almost word for word the same fortune the old shaman told me at my last birthday.” Little Bear said. He looked pale. There was another awkward silence. “I had better return to camp.” he said.
Sarah suddenly became aware that time had passed. But she also felt she had done something wrong. She hadn’t meant to frighten him. “Will I see you again?” she asked.
“Yes. Tomorrow. Same time if you can.” He was getting up to go.
“How do I get back home?” she asked.
“Your village lies toward the setting sun” he said smiling, and was gone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

AlphaOmega Captcha Classica  –  Enter Security Code