It would seem that everything I came here knowing is wrong.
When I look over my past entries, I find it hard to believe what an absolute idiot I've been. But it's not just me; we've all been idiots—me and the whole bloody Virginia Company. I wonder how we thought that we'd stake out a life in the middle of the wilderness with no knowledge of the terrain and no help from the Indians? I wonder if we thought that we'd ever actually find that gold? I wonder if I ever really entertained the notion that I'd be free to conquer America and claim as much as I could for myself?
Whatever we thought, one would have to be stupid not to laugh at it now.
But the thing I wonder most at is that we really, truly thought that we could take this all, freely, from the people who live here. Oh, perhaps we could, with our guns and cannons and forts—it would only take a little manpower. But did we really think that we could do it without having a permanent mark on our records? Did we really think that these people mean so little to God?
I fear that we did.
"You've been in love before?"
They were sitting in a meadow near Pocahontas' village, and John was sketching out a crude map on a sheet of paper. But this question made him stop. He turned around and gave her an incredulous stare—she actually wanted to know about his ridiculous "love affairs"?
"Yes…I guess I have."
"Don't you know for sure?" Her head tilted to the side.
John considered. "Well…I suppose I knew when I was still in love, but now I'm not so sure if it even was love." Because I've met you, he wanted to say, but he could never be entirely sure of how she felt. Sometimes she would suddenly retract, becoming distant and mysterious, and once it happened, he wouldn't be able to reach through this veil until it had lifted, no matter what he did.
"There was this one woman. It was back when I was sold as a slave into the hands of a Turkish officer. He was extremely cruel…" John trailed off and looked as his hands, the memories flooding back even though he didn't want to remember. Pocahontas took his face in her hands and said deliberately, "You are free now."
"Yes, yes I am," he replied with a slight smile. "Eventually, his sister asked for me as a gift. I suppose she had taken pity on me. She was kinder than he was, and beautiful—at least, I thought so then. Beautiful, but very jealous. Looking back had my fair share of jealousy too. We never talked about our lives or the things we were interested in, even though I know she was well educated. We never shared our dreams." At this, he thought about the creation story Pocahontas had told him. Maybe it wasn't so ridiculous after all. "I really just needed someone who was kind to me, and she needed someone who was dependent on her. I don't believe either of us ever thought about giving." He also realized now that she had always looked down on him as a possession of hers, but he did not want to sound bitter. What was past was past.
Pocahontas nodded with the same knowing look she'd had when John first met her. After a silence, she said, "I know what it's like to need kindness. My mother died when I had twelve winters…twelve years in your language, you said. Many people only liked me because of her. They all thought…still think that I am very strange. So when she left, I was alone except for my father and Kekata and Nakoma. But my father has other wives and children. Kekata is a medicine man and has many more things to do; besides, it would not be fitting for a man his age to show much affection towards a girl who was not related to him. And Nakoma…she's preparing to become a woman of the village, the wife of a young warrior or hunter or scout. A good mother. Like she's supposed to be. I understand. I still love them all." She smiled a sad smile, and took off her necklace in order to show it to him. "My mother gave this to my father to give to me." John couldn't think of anything to say that was remotely sufficient, so instead he extended his arms awkwardly and she fell into them with a deep sigh—too deep for someone as young as she. He could not imagine her being an outcast, nor could he imagine her as the wife of anyone. The queen, maybe. But a wife? No, she was too independent, too full of her own thoughts to ever belong to anyone. Even himself. He stroked her back softly as he thought of these things, smelling the pine scent of her hair—undoubtedly from running through the woods and getting her hair caught in branches, he noted with a smile. Now she wore it in a braid, making her appear younger than he thought she was. Suddenly her face brightened.
"But I still have Grandmother Willow! She's been the same for as long as I can remember. And now I have you too. You are very kind, John Smith. Even when you were being ignorant, you apologized so nicely!"
Then she laughed her clear laugh that sounded like a gushing stream, and he felt uplifted.
Unfortunately, his happiness quickly dissipated as soon as he came within half a mile of Jamestown.
John Smith sat alone these days. He had a rushed, manic look in his eyes and little feverish patches always seemed to color his pale, weathered skin—it made some of the men wonder if he were possibly going mad. He hardly spoke to anyone, other than to harshly bark orders, and when he did speak, he seemed to look through you rather than at you. Of course, who wasn't going mad these days? The nights were getting brisker, colder, but they were woefully unprepared. The crops had failed, and even though Smith had mysteriously come up with a new planting technique, it was too late to expect a harvest before winter came. They were left with a diet of only the foods they could hunt and scavenge in the nearby area which, being a swamp, held very little. The few who were brave enough to go and hunt in the forests and meadows beyond often came back with barely enough to feed everyone. The camp grew slovenly, with mud tracked about everywhere because of the frequent rain, and the filth of garbage and waste. Dysentery and scurvy were beginning to spread—the two diseases combined had already made away with five people. The sole doctor that had come along was working tirelessly to treat those who showed symptoms. But besides all of this, there was another thing that gnawed at the men's hearts, making them curse in frustration and truly driving them insane. Where was the gold? This place was supposed to be a glittering paradise, a New Jerusalem on Earth, but all it had turned out to be as of yet was worse than what could be found in the poorest gutters of London. Yet somehow, this fact was quickly replaced in many of the men with an ever growing sense of greed for what was rightfully theirs. Yes, rightfully theirs. They'd agreed to it on contract, hadn't they? And so they neglected their duties to keep pawing fruitlessly in the sickeningly moist soil, searching for the hidden vein that just had to be there. It had to. There was no other option.
The bonfire had gone down, and almost everyone was huddling for what warmth they could find in their own tents (by now, because of the cold, everyone had consolidated themselves into a small number of cabins and tents to generate more heat). Even with the chill of the wind, however, John Smith sat on a low bench in front of the dying flames, staring into them with an intensity that betrayed the furious inner workings of his mind.
He whirled around. Thomas was standing behind him, looking slightly unsure and even afraid. His cap was off and the wind was blowing his bright red hair in his eyes, but John could definitely see fear in them. He turned his back toward him roughly.
"What do you want, Thomas?" He hated to be rude to the boy, but he needed to be alone. He always needed to be alone, it seemed.
"I just thought you looked— well, it's late and the fire's going down and I figured you must be…uncomfortable." A bright red blush creeping onto his face, he held out a threadbare woolen blanket. John took it without saying a word and threw it over his shoulders. Several moments passed, until Thomas sat down next to him all in a rush, making sure to leave a good amount of space between them. John hadn't known he'd become that unapproachable. The two sat there for a long while in silence, and John could feel Thomas studying him hard. Maybe he knew his secret.
"I don't think there's gold here, you know." Thomas darted a quick glance at Smith to see his reaction, but John remained focused on the fire, which by now was merely a pile of glowing embers. Still, Thomas took it as a good sign that John hadn't already ordered him away.
"Everyone's still going crazy over it, even the other council members, but I think they're all mad. I'm collecting pearls instead. Quite a few oysters down by the bay." Thomas grinned and took out a small bag, out of which he poured a handful of sparkling pearls of various sizes. They glinted dully in the moonlight. "I don't see how some of these people would rather get sick or starve than give up on the gold. They really must be mad." Thomas paused at this last statement, obviously wondering if it really were true. Finally, after what seemed like ages, John spoke with a bitter tone, more to himself than to anyone else.
"This is my fault. I've let things get the way they are. If I'd have done things right, if I'd actually been paying attention, if I'd listened to the council when they said don't get too chummy with the men! But I didn't listen, and so when they had a choice between obeying my orders and hunting that ridiculous gold, they chose the gold. They didn't even listen when I took away their rations; just kept on digging and throwing angry glances back at me. They knew what a fool I was to expect anything different." John wondered why in the world he was revealing this, but realized it was alright, because Thomas was level-headed and he was stable and he was trustworthy. He was also one of the few people John had come in contact with who gave a fig about him other than as a drinking companion or, more recently, a joke of a captain. To his surprise, Thomas replied coldly,
"If any of them are such idiots as to disobey their captain for gold they haven't even seen yet, they deserve all that they get." Thomas was looking off, his brow set firmly. John wondered when he'd gone from being an awkward boy of seventeen to a man with precious little pity for sinners. Had he always had that hard streak, or had the merciless existence they led here done it to him? And if young Thomas had changed that much…how much had he?
He decided he didn't want to know.
Thomas continued to roll his pearls around in his palm, and John continued to stare at the now-nonexistent fire, both of them wrapped in their own thoughts. Out of the corner of his eye, John noticed Thomas shivering slightly, and felt guilty. With his teeth chattering ever so slightly Thomas broke the silence, a solemn expression on his face.
"Well, I suppose I'll g-get going. It's getting late and I'm s-supposed to be mending the sow's fence tomorrow—no-ot that we'll n-need it much longer, since she'll probably be gone by next week. Anyhow, good night, Captain Smith." He rose and gave a small bow—and then he was running off into the darkness.
The next time he saw her, he could see that a dark cloud had fallen over her, just as one had fallen over him. She would grasp his hand firmly, but look off in a different direction, obviously seeing things in her mind that were troubling her. He wondered about all the things it could possibly be, convinced that someone who had braved as much loss and loneliness as she had with a cheerful spirit wouldn't be upset over nothing. Had she somehow found out about the desperate situation at Jamestown? Or was it something in her own home?
"Pocahontas…" He gently caressed her cheek with the back of his hand, and her eyes went out of their dreamlike state and focused on him, him alone. He was arrested by her gaze as always—how could someone so young have such old eyes, eyes that had seen everything in the entire world and still wanted to know more? But there was more than that; there was a fire behind them that was meant only for him, somehow. His stomach caught with desire, and a thought struck him.
"Black, black, black is the color of my true love's hair…" He whispered the melody almost below his breath, but she heard it, and smiled.
"Her lips are like a rose so fair…and the prettiest face and the neatest hands…" He took her hands in his and kissed both of them, lingering long over each hand.
"I love the grass whereon she stands, she with the wondrous hair." Her eyes had drifted shut, but there was something wrong—soon, a tear was making its way down her cheek, and he rushed to brush it away, all the while wondering what could possibly be wrong. She had never been like this before.
"Pocahontas, you worry me. Is everything all right?"
Perhaps he would regret bringing it up, but he wanted—no, needed—to know what had been troubling her. Pocahontas' face became a mixture of regret and—resignation? It was a long time before she spoke.
"John, why did your people come here? Why have you not gone away yet?"
He stared at her. In a flash, all of his halfhearted fantasies that somehow he and she would be able to make a life together here in peace were gone, and in their place was the inevitable rush of booted feet and cobbled streets and screams. He knew it couldn't last. He knew that eventually it would catch up with him, that the settlers would demand land and gold, neither of which they'd be able to procure from the Indians, he was sure. And he knew that at that point there would be bloodshed; how much, it was impossible to tell. Even so, he had held onto a slight hope that he could continue in this dream world with her for an indefinite amount of time. But she knew, perhaps had guessed long before, and her people most likely knew as well. There wasn't much helping it now.
"Mostly to establish a colony. Like I was telling you before you became furious with me, when we met." He almost wished that she was angry again—anger was better than sadness. "England has been interested in colonizing the Americas for a long time, ever since the Spaniards began to set up colonies in South America, Hispaniola, and Florida. But many of the men came here for gold." He winced, waiting for the full impact of her righteous indignation, but her reply was merely curious.
"What's gold?" What's gold? Only the most precious metal in the entire world. Only the thing that my men are willing to starve for. Only the thing that launched a thousand ships and will launch a thousand more as long as it exists, he thought angrily.
Her eyes widened in shock when he pulled a gold sovereign out of his pouch. Normally he would have laughed at her positively awed expression—like a child at Christmas—but all he could think about now was the greedy glint in the eyes of undernourished men. But he noticed a change in her expression…first calculating, then one of realization—and horror. Her head jerked up, searching him silently for an answer, and he knew that she understood all that the gold meant. He couldn't bring himself to reply.
"But there's nothing like that around here," she cried, her eyes darting all around her frantically, fearfully. He knew she was telling the truth—after all, if the land were filled with gold, then why didn't the daughter of the chief wear any?
"John, you will tell them that, won't you? Won't you?" Her voice rose higher and higher, and she clutched urgently at his shirt, forcing him to meet her eyes. They wouldn't believe him, he knew. If they were willing to go without food for days at a time to pursue their fantasy, they certainly wouldn't take the word of a savage. But he had to tell them, like she said. Otherwise he'd be standing by, probably tied up or even dead, while they went forward with what was surely the next phase of their madness—an attack, followed by a raid. Desperate men had no fear. So against his will, he assured her that he would tell them—but, he wondered, how?
"John! If they leave…will…will you go with them?"
He'd always assumed that he'd head back to England at the appointed time, endowed with new prestige and hopefully more similar assignments from the King. But now…he wasn't sure. And Pocahontas looking at him like that, with a look that clearly had love in it, though she had yet to give any sign along those lines—that didn't help at all.
"I wouldn't have anywhere to call home. I've never really belonged anywhere."
"You could belong here."
If only it were that easy.
But…what if it was?
He'd made his decision by the time he took her hands in his and fixed her with a determined look.
"Meet me tonight. Right here."