The warm breeze ruffled the tall grasses, sending waves of motion across the vast expanse of golden brown. As far as the eye could see, there was a sea of golden brown waving gently. There was a small track worn into the grass from wagon trains, the dirt scarred along the way from fires and hastily erected and dismantled camps by the settlers on their way west.
This particular hill wasn't much different except for the small camp sitting at the bottom of it. It was early in the morning and the women were bustling around, rounding up their children and packing up the items they'd taken out the night before, ensuring everything was back in its proper place on the wagons before they set out. One little girl was headed in a decided path away from the curling smoke from the camp fires and loud boys, challenging each other to duels using long sticks they found. Her long brown hair was wet from a scrubbing, pulled into two tight plaits on either side of her head, her scalp shiny and pink in the part.
She was off in search of adventure, sure that it was just over the hill. Every day, Papa told her that adventure was just over the next hill and so far, there had been no adventure, just more grass. The ground was flattening out so even the excitement of a hill was waning. She was dreading the day when there was no hill in the distance. Then she'd have nothing to distract her from her sister's incessant prattling about boys or books or whatever it was that currently had her interest. She sincerely hoped she was not as boring when she was fourteen.
She dropped to the ground, crawling forward towards the apex of the hill on her hands and knees, her heart hammering in her chest in excitement. She could hear an odd sound just over the top and it intrigued her. She was fascinated by everything she didn't know, much to her mother's chagrin. It resulted in her getting into all sorts of things it would be best she didn't.
She rose up onto her knees so she could see over the tall grass and frowned with confusion.
Mike Newton, the teenage boy so recently the object of the girl's sister's attentions. He was sitting on the ground, his pants down around his ankles, rapidly pumping something between his legs the girl had never seen before. She frowned and crept closer as quietly as she could, craning her neck curiously.
"Bella!" a voice called from further down the hill. The girl whipped her head around in a panic before dropping to her hands and knees, disappearing in the grasses. "Bella, where are you?"
"Oh god," Mike groaned, apparently not having heard the shouting.
Bella crept forward again, getting close enough to see. She watched in fascination as his hand moved faster for a few moments before he cried out and slumped forward, a stream of pearly white liquid spurting from his…thing. Bella couldn't think of a word for it at the moment. She watched him for a moment and if his chest hadn't been heaving, she would have thought he was dead, he was so still.
"Bella, I know you're out here somewhere," the voice called again, louder and closer this time, a note of annoyance in it.
Mike heard this time and he sat up quickly, pulling his pants up and checking to make sure his clothes were clean before he stood up. In the meantime, Bella hastily crawled backwards, not caring if she moved the grasses. Surely Mike would only think it was the wind or some animal.
Once she decided she was at a safe enough distance, she stood up and started towards the voice. "Over here, Jessica," she called, waving towards her older sister who had caught sight of Mike. "I saw a rabbit and was chasing it, trying to find its burrow. It went that way," she lied easily, pointing in a direction completely different from where Mike had been.
Jessica wasn't listening to her sister, instead she was lifting her blond hair from her shoulders, piling it up on her head and fanning her neck as she'd seen some of the women do back home. Mike's eyes were immediately drawn to the pert breasts now thrust into the air. They weren't much, but there were very few girls his age on the wagon train, and some of them were his own sisters.
Bella watched the exchange with interest, idly twirling the end of one braid around and between her fingers. Older kids were so strange sometimes.
"Hello Jessica," Mike said awkwardly, rubbing his palms against his thighs nervously. "How did you sleep?"
"Oh, very well, thank you. And you? How did you sleep?"
"Fine. It was nice last night, not too cold. Perfect weather for sleeping outdoors."
Jessica nodded as though she were an expert on sleeping outdoors when she'd never done it before the wagon train. Bella rolled her eyes and started towards the top of the hill, eager to see where they were heading next, looking for adventure just beyond the horizon. The two teenagers continued their stilted awkward flirting behind her.
Bella imagined herself an Indian scout, looking for palefaces to rob or buffalo to hunt. She didn't know much more about what they might do other than scalping and hunting. That's all that had really reached her ears back home in Boston and that was only from hours spent eavesdropping. She hummed softly to herself, parting the grasses like she imagined an explorer might when searching the deepest wilds of Africa or the jungles of the Amazon. She imagined finding a tiger, like in India, or a lion like in Africa. She did not expect, however, to see the plain on the other side of the hill teeming with men on horses.
Their skin was bronzed and gleaming in the sun, what little was visible under the black paint. They were wearing their hair in two braids, like Bella's, but with bright colors painted down the parts, red and yellow and blue. Some of the men were wearing what looked like buffalo heads on their heads, making them look even more frightening.
"Jessica," Bella called anxiously. "Mike."
The teens came towards her, noting the tone of her voice. Jessica's hand flew up to her mouth when she saw the veritable army of Indians below. Mike's face drained as he surveyed them.
"We'll be massacred," he whispered hoarsely.
The three children stood frozen, the last minutes of their lives ticking away as they watched the army begin its trek up the hillside. The older two clasped hands subconsciously seeking comfort. Bella had a different idea.
She turned and started running down the hill towards the camp, screaming at the top of her lungs, hoping that if given even a little warning, maybe, just maybe, some of them could get out of this alive.
At first, the adults didn't understand her, then they didn't believe her. It was only when they saw the horde sweeping down on them from the top of the hill that they leapt into action, women and children hiding inside the wagons and men grabbing their guns. Bella's mother reached for her, shuffling her quickly into the wagon with her younger brother Tyler.
"Where's Jessica?" she asked panicked. "Where's your sister?"
Bella was panting from running down the hill. "She was on top of the hill."
Her mother turned immediately, scanning the mass of humanity swarming down on them in search of her older daughter.
"Renee, get in the wagon," her husband shouted, pushing her towards it as the first arrows started to fly. Renee hurried into the wagon, scooping Tyler in her arms and crushing him against her chest.
Secluded in the wagon, they could only hear the screams of the horses and the Indians as the battle raged on. There was an occasional scream from one of their fellow travelers and with each one, Renee hugged Tyler tighter to her. Bella crept forward carefully, peeking out through a hole in the canvas.
She watched wide-eyed as the men took down Indians who were simply replaced by ten more. The Indians were amazing, riding fast and shooting at the same time. A few would leap off their ponies, hitting the ground running as they whipped knives out and took the top of some of the fallen settler's heads off.
It was all over fairly quickly. Not a white man was left alive and more than a few of the women were killed. Every one that fought back at least. When the outspoken ones had been silenced, the Indians started pulling the remaining settlers out of their wagons, passing them around and essentially divvying them up. They had no interest in the goods in the wagons, other than taking a few blankets or cooking pots, grabbing the guns and ammunition off the dead bodies on the ground, but instead focused their interest on the human prizes.
Renee clutched Tyler to her, the little boy crying in terror, as she climbed down awkwardly. The Indians were shouting unintelligibly, scaring most of the survivors to tears. Bella stood beside her mother defiantly, looking around at the intimidating men surrounding her.
One man grabbed Tyler and thrust him towards another man while wrenching Renee's arm towards himself.
"No, not my son," she screamed, reaching for Tyler who was reaching for her, his face red and wet.
Bella darted forward, grabbing her brother from the man's arms and holding him protectively. Renee was still reaching for them when the man holding her hit her on the head hard. She blinked twice before slumping to the ground, unconscious. Now the full attention of several men was on Bella. She narrowed her eyes as she looked up at them.
"My brother," she said loudly, as though the louder she spoke, the more likely it was they would understand her. "He stays with me."
The men glanced at each other in confusion. One, the tallest in the group, stepped forward and reached for Tyler. Bella jerked back and shook her head, holding tightly to her brother who was now in a state of shock, his wet face pressed into her neck.
There was a low chuckle from the tall man and he nodded, understanding her finally. He motioned for her to follow him, pointing to his pony then off into the distance. Bella's heart pounded in her chest and she pointed at first her mother then at the man. He shook his head and pointed at her significantly. Only her and Tyler.
She fought back an urge to cry, knowing it would only set off Tyler again and took a tentative step forward. Whatever spell she'd cast was broken by that step and the silence that had fallen around them was shattered as the Indians continued to divvy up the others. The tall man swept Tyler and Bella up onto a pony, climbing on behind them and letting out a fierce cry before setting off.
Several of the others followed him, nearly a third of the group. They all had something with them, either a person or stolen items, as they rode off, shouting excitedly. There were even some who were leading the ponies of their fallen comrades, the dead tied awkwardly over the backs of the horses.
Bella scanned the scared faces of the other settler captives, looking anxiously for Jessica but she couldn't see her. They all looked alike at the moment, dusty and terrified, tears streaking down their faces.
They rode for hours before they could see the distant curling of smoke, pale grey against the piercing blue of the sky. Bella was sore from riding without a break, her stomach growling hungrily. They finally arrived at the camp, to the delight of several of those left behind. Some of the women untied the dead and carried them off somewhere to prepare them for burial while others gathered the blankets and pots and began to divide those among themselves. Then the human prizes were unloaded and shoved to the center of the camp, lined up as though on auction.
Bella had seen a slave auction once along the trip. She'd seen the dark men and women lined up, their skin gleaming in the hot sun. Her father had quickly covered her eyes and rushed her away, stating that it wasn't a thing for children or anyone to see. She'd looked back and had seen one man being led down the wooden steps, his back criss-crossed with lighter colored scars. Even once they were out of sight, she could hear the auctioneer's voice proclaiming the attributes of one slave and the answering bids from the crowd that had gathered.
This was somewhat like that. They were lined up and the Indian women went down the line of children first, checking their teeth and poking their ribs, treating them like animals. A woman with kind eyes stopped in front of Bella and Tyler and nodded, motioning for them to follow her. Bella looked towards the tall man with alarm and he nodded. She hesitantly followed the woman, pulling Tyler along behind her.
The women were divided up later, though Bella didn't know how or by whom. She simply followed the woman away from the center of camp towards a tall triangular shaped shelter. She looked at it curiously, noting the smoke curling out of a small hole near the top where the poles all gathered. It was about fifteen or sixteen feet tall and looked about twenty feet across when they entered. Bella stood for a moment, letting her eyes adjust to the dimmer light inside the shelter.
There was some kind of lining hanging down from the top and tucked under the piles of blankets and furs on the ground, circling the entire interior. The ground underfoot was springy, making Bella wonder if there was moss or grasses or something under the blankets. There were bundles of belongings around the walls and now that her eyes were adjusted, Bella could make out that the furs and blankets weren't as haphazard as she'd originally thought. They seemed to delineate actual beds or at least separate areas for people.
The woman gestured for the two of them to come closer to her, squatting down and patting the pallet at the back of the tent. Bella moved forward slowly but surely, exhaustion outweighing her fear. If they were going to eat her like people said, maybe they'd at least let her sleep first.
The woman was talking quietly, words that meant nothing at all to the children but were soothing nonetheless. Bella stretched out on the soft furs and pulled Tyler against her. He went willingly though he never had before. The woman smiled and nodded, patting Tyler on the head.
"Ràmi," she said softly, then patted Bella's head. "Batzi." She tapped her chest. "Pia."
Bella nodded tiredly. "Pia," she mumbled before closing her eyes and drifting off to sleep.
Tali: So, I'm trying something new. I did some research for this but I know it's not completely right. Let me know if you want to see more!