A/N: After reading some very wonderful stories in LOTM I felt compelled to pen down some ideas I had of Alice and Uncas, because seriously, the ending left me bawling like a very helpless child. In any case, do enjoy and all comments are appreciated.
Disclaimer: I do not own The Last of the Mohicans.
We do not question our strengths, only our weaknesses.
She was 12 when her father uttered those words, holding her delicate ankle in his calloused hands as she sat in a heap of torn skirts, bruised skin and watery eyes after tripping over a rock and tumbling down a slope when she wandered outdoors alone and unchecked.
She could have very well broken her neck, and her father had, in his worry and paranoia channelled it into the vast storage of anger he so easily fed and expelled, and turned his wrath upon her sister instead.
"Were you not watching your sister, Cora? What were you thinking, girl? Of all the foolish things…!"
"Oh, dear Alice," she could just imagine her mother say. "Were you out chasing the clouds again? Watching the birds that flock in numbers and the rabbits that visit our gardens? Your spirit yearns for the earth my love, but you should have been more careful."
My strengths, she would think. My strengths lie in quietness and thought, and never in fire and thunderous songs.
Never like Cora.
But, pressed tight and rigid against her sister's waist as the screeching sound of metal met metal, of gun powder and deafening shots, her stillness had come in cracks, interspersed with sobs that came in unrelenting guttural heaves.
My weakness, Alice Munro had thought, watching the scene of gore and brutality tear the innocence of wealth and pampering as easily as it could like the thick curtains that framed their adored house back in England.
"I'll be brave, papa and more careful," she had sworn that Sunday afternoon after her unfortunate fall that left her with a bruised ankle and sore palms, remembering every nerve which cried out in pain as the family doctor examined and prodded the protesting ligament.
And now, years later, lying on moss-covered ground that smelt too much of death than life, that bravery had all but disappeared, and she was instead, aware of everything – of the uncomfortable stretch of her sister's skirt against her cheek, the strong fingers that clasped her back and the terrible glee that filled the Indians as they descended upon the unsuspecting soldiers. Her eyes remained open, shadowed in grim and horror at the carnage that lay just within her grasp.
So close, she had thought, watching as if in slow motion as serrated blades plunged deep to sever both flesh and bone, magnifying her terror and causing her to slip into a dangerous trance that was perhaps her only defence mechanism.
So close, her thoughts chanted. I am so close to death.
When it over, it was Cora who picked her from the ground, firm hands steadying her frame and Alice watched, as though floating in another body as her own legs straightened, loyally holding her frail weight. As the smoke lingered, she swallowed tears and cleared her hoarse throat, deaf to the turmoil that boiled between their 3 saviours and her sister's and Duncan's protectiveness.
But it was the Indian that made her jerk back to self-awareness, where her eyes were no longer glazed in memories of childhood past and her hands no longer shook in fear of another massacre.
It was he, of stoic features but gentle eyes, of skin the colour of warm dusted brown, of hair the colour of a black waterfall, of panther grace and ruthless precision, and of courage like steel and masculine power of tensile strength.
Alice had never seen, or felt such charisma or magnetism in a person. Back in England, her friends held neither charm nor appeal such as his, and she thought of her father, who resembled brimstone and ash, clouding and exploding in fearsome fury. And Duncan, Duncan was always confusing, for he held an affection that had at times appeared possessive, clouding his spirit and thoughts.
And so she stared, fascinated but shy, stealing glances at the Mohican when he wasn't looking as they trekked up rocks and hills to safety.
"I am Uncas," he had introduced politely, his voice deep and warm when he caught her staring at him again.
Careless girl! She had berated herself silently. To stare in such an unbecoming manner at a man!
"And I am Alice," she replied after a moment and gave her thanks for their aid in their timely rescue. She had meant to say more, until she almost fell when she very nearly tripped over a jutting rock, propelling her uneasy mind back to when she had chased the clouds and tumbled down a certain slope.
Terrified for her ankle and body that would soon meet gravel and stone, Alice had grabbed the first thing that was next to her, and her fingers curled tightly around his forearm as she came to jerky stops.
She felt warm skin and sinewy muscles – a lethal and seductive combination made perfect by years of warrior and hunter training. In a hold that was meant to break her fall, Alice had shuddered at their contact, her thoughts straying unbidden to that of a passionate lover's touch, stealing soft kisses under a crescent moon that would hang crookedly in the night, or of gentle caresses of silk-laced care that would have her whimpering in utmost delight...
Frightened and appalled at such a thought, Alice pulled away quickly, almost losing her balance again in the process. Cheeks burning and heart fluttering, she could barely look into his gaze without giving away her flustered emotions.
And still, he said nothing, his face showing neither irritation nor amusement but kindness and a dark swirling pool of emotion that spoke of something deeper and more complex that she had yet to understand.
She wondered if he felt that same touch, and thought the same thought as she did.
"Sorry," Alice blurted instead, feeling a blush sweep her cheeks at the way he was looking at her.
They may be red men, Alice thought as they resumed their arduous journey, but they certainly are no barbarians! It was as if a veil had been lifted off her eyes, and Alice Munro was now seeing what others would not.
We are all beings, beings that succumb to emotions, of love and of instinct – we are all of it, she thought.
And when the sun was high overhead and the forest was alive – singing with foliage, insects and birds, so too were her heart and spirit even in the midst of heat and sweat-covered skin. Because beyond the colours of green, brown and faded yellow, Alice could understand that life and nature were the essence of the world, still beautiful and revered despite any violence.
"Are you all right?" Cora's voice was a welcome intrusion to her thoughts, and Alice nodded warmly.
"I am, dear sister," she assured. "And yourself?"
"I too, am fine." Cora's reply was ready and immediate – too immediate, and Alice was neither blind nor deaf to the tension that was creeping up her sister's spine.
Instead, she reached out a hand, and felt the familiar fingers of her sister's twine against her own, and together they formed a firm clasp, a symbol of strength and love as they pushed each other forward just a little more towards their final destination.
"What are you thinking?" Cora asked softly, her eyes downcast on the leaf-covered earth as their skirts ruffled against each other.
Of the courage I lack, and him, who stares at me with unflinching eyes, she wanted to say. But she could not, for in the recesses of her mind, she was still groping for comprehension, of the self-awareness she lacked, and of the fear that dripped and pooled deep within her belly whenever Uncas wasn't in line of sight.
"Of warm baths and deep sleep," Alice replied instead, and forced a tiny smile, if only for her sister's assurance.
"And of our father, I hope," Cora said, returning the smile.
Her gaze slipped only for a moment to his figure that stood just outside the perimeter of the group, musket at the ready and eyes as dark as the earth.
She sighed, though not of tiredness.