Author's Foreword: Here is a short story written for a contest that was to feature at least one canon immortal involved in what would be considered an historical "mystery. Once again, word limit was a problem and I had to cut a few things to get it in under the limit. I hope you enjoy it. elle
To History Lost
Immortals are part of history. Methos
Matthew McCormick shaded his eyes as the ship which had brought them to the New World, slowly dwindled on the horizon. His friend John White had reluctantly taken passage back to England to obtain new provender and supplies for the one hundred and fifteen colonists still left on this island of Roanoke in Chesapeake Bay.
Waving a hand at the swarm of gnats that hung in the late summer air, Matthew waited until the ship was indistinguishable from the small white clouds on the horizon. "Godspeed my friend," Matthew whispered to the vanishing link with England, "Godspeed."
John had not wished to leave, but one of them needed to, and as an immortal, Matthew knew his chances of survival in this wilderness were better than John's were. At least if he died, as long as he kept his head, he could revive, and continue to guard and watch over the colonists.
Once the ship had vanished, Matthew turned reluctantly from the shore and trod the sandy path to the berm that surrounded the young colony. "Promise me you'll keep them safe," John had begged as he'd taken his leave. Matthew had promised. He would do all in his power to keep his friend's family safe, as well as the others.
As he entered, he could sense the unease of the man on the gate. "What bothers you James?" he asked.
The taller man shook his head as he pointed his musket toward the woods. "I fear they will attack again. And without those who left to sustain us, I fear we are too few to survive." Matthew could see little of the self-assured man who'd come to this New World. James had been a baker in London when he'd decided to seek his fortune here. With dreams of gold and land as far as the eye could see, he'd hoped to give his family a new chance for life in something other than London slums. The reality of Virginia, however, was far different than the broadsides and promises of the company in which the colonists had invested their money.
Matthew's reasons for coming had been more practical. He wanted a respite from the game. He doubted he would meet many immortals in the wilderness. He had no doubt there would be some, but surely he would have a rest from the ongoing challenges to the death. If this land were as vast as some surmised… he could move ahead of civilization for centuries before the game caught up with him again. But first he had promises to keep.
About the colony, the men and women moved in their daily chores… and the odors and sounds of that life filled Matthew with a sense of hope. The plaintive cry of the newborn Virginia Dare, high and thin on the wind, came to him. Her chances of survival in this place were slim… yet there was something hopeful about children.
For a moment Matthew paused and considered his own plight… that immortals were doomed to destroy one another and that they had no children. How many wives had he buried in his nearly four hundred years? How many of their children by other husbands had he buried? How many of their grandchildren? Matthew shuddered. Some of them he'd held as babes and buried as elderly grandparents. He had loved them all as if they were his… long after none knew who he was. Yet none of them were truly his.
Ann Barrow smiled at him as she carried buckets of fresh water from the spring that ran through one corner of the settlement. She had set her cap for him, Matthew knew… and he was sorely tempted. There were few enough women in this place, and most were wives or daughters. Ann was the younger sister of Thomas Barrow, one of the farmers who'd joined them. Matthew knew he'd be pleased at the prospect of such a marriage for his sister.
Matthew hesitated to speak his mind on the subject. After all… if she married him, she'd have no children of her own. Matthew normally married only young widows with children, so that they'd have them already, and would not pine for more. Still, Ann was a comely lass, with her straw-blonde hair and periwinkle blue eyes that sparkled merrily when she smiled. Her one flaw, if flaw it were, was a strawberry colored birthmark whose edge on her breast could be seen along the neckline of her bodice. It intrigued Matthew to learn just how far it went. So far, he'd made no attempt to discover. After all… Ann was not some strumpet that he could bed and leave. This was a small, closed community. No, he was better off being merely intrigued and biding his time.
He swatted again at gnats on his neck, feeling the tiny bites of the hungry midges. Being immortal didn't prevent him from feeding the midges… or in feeling the discomfort of their bite. His action caused Ann to giggle and he smiled at her sheepishly, then continued his patrol about the colony's fortifications.
In many of his lives, Matthew had been a sheriff, and had joined the colony mainly as a peacekeeper and soldier. He knew some farming, however, and what he did know had already come into play. He'd realized that many of the seeds they'd brought with them to grow produce would not grow in this blasted climate. It was too hot and too wet here. Something else was needed. Thus they were facing slim times. They'd already consumed much of the larder that had been planned to sustain them over the cold winter months and unless the hunting improved, might well face privation before spring came again.
Accordingly, tempers of the men were sometimes short, although a few seemed mellowed by the presence of their families. The company had decided that if families accompanied the men, they'd be happier and more likely to put down deep and abiding roots. Matthew hoped so, but he still worried, for it seemed foolishness itself for men to bring families into this wilderness.
His sight ranged over the small cemetery. Already rude wooden crosses marked four graves. Between the fevers and the Indian attack, their losses had been harsh. True, their muskets were fearsome weapons against the savages, but their numbers were few compared to the Indians. Thankfully, they'd found a friend in Manteo of the Croaton tribe who had learned their tongue and translated their words to others. Without his support, they'd have truly been alone in this land. But their recent attack on Manteo's tribe… error that it was… had soured relations. Manteo's people had stopped helping the colonists and, more importantly, had stopped supplementing the food supplies.
Passing the stream that meandered into the fort, Matthew, knelt for a moment to cup some water in his hands and wash his face. He had argued against that attack, knowing that attacking any of the tribes would only escalate the violence. He'd refused to go along with them, claiming that the settlement also needed protection while they were gone. Perhaps if he'd gone, that fool Roger Lattimore would not have attacked the wrong tribe! Matthew rose, blinking away the water near his eyes and stared about the colony. This was not a good place for them. They should be on high ground… not low. The encircling berm of branches should be stouter… re-enforced by tall timbers; and even the women should be taught to fight. He'd been outvoted on all of his suggestions, but maybe with some of his more outspoken critics gone, he could make some headway. The berm, at least must be fortified.
The women and children could handle the meager harvest with appropriate guards, while he and the other younger men began the task of felling the timbers and dragging them back here to make a true fort. He'd start suggesting it again at the common meal this night. James Conroy, at least would support him. And so would some of the other men, though it meant more work for them.
The bitter cold of winter had descended on the colonists. This cold, unlike the warm wet winters of England, was chilling to the bone. All the members of one family had died in the past week, coughing themselves to death. Matthew had been the only one to dare tend them. The others huddled in their homes near the fires, eating the thin broth that passed for food. The supply ships, due back eight weeks ago, had not returned. Matthew feared for all of them.
The frozen ground would not allow a proper burial at this time, so Matthew had washed the bodies, wrapped them in shrouds and left them in the now cold house. He'd have to wait for a spring thaw to bury them. Meanwhile, he'd warned the others to stay out of the house.
Before the cold had come, they'd managed to add timber reinforcements to three of the walls. But hunting and survival from the elements were of more importance now. However, few animals remained in the area, as if they, too, like the tribes, had moved on when the cold hit. All meat was to be shared and shared alike in the communal meals. Peter Webster, the priest, was seen praying daily for a respite from the cold, and for the return of the supply ship. Matthew often added his own silent prayers to those of the Reverend Webster. If help didn't come soon… it might as well not come at all. For all it would find would be a ghost town.
Manteo's people had returned.
Matthew and Thomas Barrow had met and parlayed with him trying to barter for food. Manteo had declined. The winter had been harsh, and at this time, he had no extra foodstuffs. But he would send a few workers to help them plant corn, beans and squash… the foods that his tribe also raised. He could do little more.
Early May 1588
Powhatan's tribe attacked and killed a party of four colonists, out hunting, hacking their bodies to pieces. Matthew wondered if the attack had been provoked. Either way, he reinforced the guard on their defenses and created a warning system so that the field workers could get back to the fort if anyone was sighted.
Three nights after the hunting party was killed, Matthew heard noises from the surrounding woods. Ringing the alarm, he was relieved to see the men swiftly take their places along the fortifications. Ordering all fires quenched, he settled to watch the patch of cleared land that lay between the surrounding wilderness and the colony.
There was no moon that night, and the attack came swiftly. Powhatan sacrificed several warriors in a broad attempt to focus the colonists' firepower on the front gate of the stockade. By the time Matthew realized what the savages were doing, they'd already managed to climb over the rear wall.
Shouting warnings, Matthew fired at the ones already streaming into the compound. He tossed away his musket, drew his sword and plunged into the thick of the fight. He sliced at warrior after warrior before he was overwhelmed and dragged to the ground. A heavy stone mallet crushed his skull… and darkness took him.
Awaking by mid-morning still in one piece, he noted about him several bodies, and the savages were plundering the homes. He rose, grasped his nearby sword, and attacked again. This time the savages drew back from him in fear. Seeing the women and children, and a few of the surviving men in a guarded cluster, Matthew hacked his way to them and stood guard.
"We thought thee dead, Matthew," Ann Barrow sobbed and hung on him a moment.
"Just unconscious," he murmured back and then pushed her away as he turned to face Powhatan.. The colonists were surrounded. There was no escape. The savages seemed content to just watch them, so Matthew ordered them to sit down. The few remaining men held tightly to their muskets, forming a thin barrier between the women and their attackers.
By late afternoon, thirst set in. The sun, high in the sky beat down on them. Matthew could hear the plaintive cry of Eleanor Dare's baby daughter. Still the savages made no move.
Finally, Matthew noticed a stir of activity near the gate. Manteo and a small party of his people under truce had arrived. While he could not hear or understand what Powhatan and Manteo discussed, Matthew feared it had to do with who would live… and who would die. Somehow he had to present a compromise to them so that at least the women and children would be spared. But how? What leverage did he have?
When he felt the familiar sensation of another immortal, Matthew's heart sank. Perhaps they had sent for one after they'd seen his resurrection earlier. His options were slipping away.
The big man who entered through the open gate was dressed differently from the members of either tribe. Instead of loincloth and breeches, he wore a shirt and trousers of some light woven cloth dyed in brilliant colors of red and blue. His long hair was not in the style of the others, but was kept off of his fine broad face by a cloth tied about his head. At his side was a wide wooden ax with what Matthew felt was a hardened, sharp edge… sharp enough to cleave a head from a body. The others bowed to the man who stood proudly for a moment staring at Matthew. Then he grunted and took a seat with Manteo and Powhatan.
Matthew swallowed nervously, then held his sword out in a passive position and stepped forward, despite the cries of the other men. He might have one chance… one bit of leverage. He had to try. The big man motioned for him to approach.
Once there, Matthew knelt and held out his sword. To Manteo he said. "Tell him I offer my blade and my life if he will safeguard the others."
After Manteo translated. The big man laughed and took the sword from Matthew's hands. Rising, he gave it a few swings… then tested the sharpness of the blade on a nearby corpse. He seemed to approve of it. Then he looked at Matthew quizzically.
The Englishman met his gaze without flinching.
The big man spoke to Manteo who translated, "Kol T'ek of the tribe to the west along the Big Muddy, wishes to know if you wish to die."
So his name was Kol T'ek. Matthew bowed and addressed him. "I do not wish to die. But I want the lives of those I protect safeguarded. If he agrees to this, I will offer no resistance."
Kol T'ek shook his head when Manteo translated. "Kol T'ek asks if you would give your life to him and promise to obey him in all things."
Matthew nodded. "I so swear."
Kol T'ek regarded him thoughtfully, then barked orders at Powhatan and Manteo, the latter who rose and motioned Matthew to follow him back to where the other colonists waited. "Kol T'ek will take you with him to the west. He says you are his brother from across the great water. Long he has awaited your coming. He saw you in a vision long ago… and that is why he often traveled to the shores to visit."
"Who is he exactly?"
"He is a Hayoka of the great Mississippi tribe along the wide river that lies to the west. He is a shaman of great power who has lived many lifetimes. He is wise and highly regarded even by Powhatan. I will take your women and children to the north. They must give up their foreign ways and agree to become members of the tribe. They will be protected. The men, if they desire may also come with us. None may remain here at this place."
"All of them?" Matthew asked.
Manteo looked over at the colonists. "Powhatan demands payment for his losses. All firesticks must be destroyed. Five men must die in ritual sacrifice. "
"No!" shouted Matthew shaking his head. "All must live."
"No. All must be appeased. Compromise is necessary. Tell your people. Let them choose. They come with us or they die with those who must die to appease Powhatan."
Matthew shook his head. "I alone will die."
"Your life belongs to Kol T'ek. He will take you to the west," Manteo reiterated. "You will live."
Matthew shook his head. Yet he knew this was a fair bargain. Kol T'ek would likely kill him once they were alone, but Powaton had to be appeased if Manteo's tribe along with the women and children were to be safe. Reluctantly, Matthew approached the colonists to make his report and let them decide who would die… and who would vanish into the wilderness with Manteo.
By morning, the decisions had been made, the lots drawn. Five men stood forward and were dragged to one side where they were burned alive… screaming in torment from the fires. The women and children cried fearfully… Matthew and the other men watched helplessly. The burning was both a warning and a lesson. This too could be the fate of anyone who fought back.
Reluctantly… the men surrendered their muskets, which were then broken, and anything they had that was made of metal… especially their knives, which were highly prized. Manteo's group surrounded the survivors and led them out of the fort and north.
Powhatan and his warriors headed south.
Soon, only Kol T'ek, still carrying Matthew's sword, and Matthew remained. Kol T'ek rummaged through some of the piles of plunder that remained. He came up with a book and flipped through it.
"That's The Bible, our sacred word of God," Matthew explained, although he knew his words were not understood."
Kol T'ek tapped his finger on the book and said, "Bi-bell?"
Matthew smiled and nodded. "Yes."
"Yes-s," replied Kol T'ek with a grunt, and picked up a plate. Matthew began repeating the words Kol T'ek used when he tapped things, realizing that the big man was teaching him even as he was teaching the savage. At one point, Matthew picked up a dull knife and began to carve letters onto a tree. "CRO," was as far as he got before Kol T'ek stopped him. Matthew pointed at the letters. "Croaton. I only wish to let the suppliers know where the others went." He turned to the wooden palisade, finding the dead wood easier to carve, and began again, this time carving the entire word. Kol T'ek grunted and shook his head. Matthew wondered if the clue would ever be found… or understood.
The following day, Kol T'ek roused Matthew, indicating that he should follow him as they began their trek west. Evidently Matthew would not die this day… nor perhaps the next… so long as Kol T'ek wished him to live. As the two immortals left the deserted colony, Matthew glanced wistfully to the north, thinking of Ann Barrow, and wishing Godspeed and safety to those he could no longer protect. All he could do was hope that Manteo's tribe would protect them.
Facing the west, Matthew discovered that he was eager to travel. In a way, this was exactly why he'd come to the New World… for a chance to see the untamed land of the New World… and to escape the game for a time. True, he hadn't expected to meet another immortal quite so soon, but the shaman did not seem to be so much a hunter as a holy man, much like Brother Benedict of Markenfield Hall or Brother Darius in Paris. If that were so, Matthew might yet have centuries ahead of him. His step was eager as they passed into the forest, vanishing into the verdant darkness.
In June 1588, records indicate that Spanish raiders sailed into Chesapeake Bay and found the deserted remains of the settlement. John White, delayed in England by weather and war with Spain, finally returned to Roanoke in 1590. By then, the only remaining clues were letters carved into a tree. A hurricane blew up shortly after that, and his ship left. After Jamestown was founded in 1612, several colonists made a concerted effort to find the Roanoke survivors. Powhatan showed them the remains of muskets, proudly stating that he'd killed them.
Matthew MacCormick was assimilated into the great Mississippian culture near "the Father of Waters", living there for several generations before Europeans began to move into the area. He remained in the Louisiana region for the next few hundred years. Kol T'ek, moved further west, seeking always to take upon himself the pain and anger of the world so that there might be peace among all men. He became Hayoka to the world.
During the nineteenth century, evidence indicated that some descendants of Chesapeake Bay tribes had European features and blue or pale gray eyes. It is believed that they might be the descendants of the lost colonists of Roanoke Island.