John ran back to Jamestown as quickly as he could; it was already midafternoon and he wanted to waste no time. If he was going to bring down fire and brimstone on everyone, it might as well be quick.
As he neared the settlement, it seemed to him that the branches scratched at him more, that he stumbled over more rocks and stepped into more hidden holes. Perhaps the part of the forest that the white men had claimed was warning him not to cross the line, or mocking him for thinking that he could. Either way, he felt an impending sense of dread as he wedged his way through the trees and into the swampy area that had become their home. If you could call it that. The instant he'd sighted the familiar walls of the fort, he felt a thump on his shoulder and saw the same masked little creature he'd met so long ago when first exploring the woods. How he knew it was the same, he couldn't tell, but he instinctively opened his packed to let the creature rest there. He didn't want anyone thinking he'd brought home live meat.
Whether it was luck, or grace, he didn't know, but the glint of silver that registered in the farthest corner of his eyes was enough to make him jump and put his hands up.
"Oi, John! I could've killed you!" Stepping out from behind the walls of the fort, he saw a bewildered and panicked Thomas, slowly lowering his gun with trembling hands. John wondered how he'd ended up front with a gun in the first place—had he been assigned to this post? He refused to let it cross his mind that Thomas might have volunteered. Outwardly, he shook off his initial shock and walked up to Thomas as if it had been nothing, patting him firmly on the back.
"How many times do I have to tell you, lad? You've got to keep both eyes open when you're shooting. You'll never get anything with your eye squinted up like that." He positioned Thomas absentmindedly, a thought hovering somewhere in his mind that he hoped Thomas would have better aim the next time he had to shoot.
"What's been going on while I've been gone?" He'd only been away for an hour at most, possibly two, so he was shocked when he heard Thomas' furtive reply.
"They're all fed up with this. Everything. They want to hunt down the village where the Indians must be living and raid it. Tomorrow morning they want to send out a search party in all directions to find their whereabouts."
It was as if he'd prophesied the future. With his mouth still hanging open in shock, John questioned dazedly, "When did they decide this? Does—did they all agree?"
"It was Ratcliffe, apparently, who proposed it at the council meeting this morning, and the rest of the council ratified it. Said they'd all been getting too many complaints from the men about food and poor leadership-" he eyed John warily "—and they said that it was a worthy venture in order to find the gold that they'd promised their investors. Right now Ratcliffe's doing a fine job of talking about it to the rest of the men, telling them all about how they deserve their rights, even though—" Here he stopped, and lowered his voice till it was almost inaudible, "even though all the council members know we haven't any choice—they have the power to report any one of us for treason." At this, John's mouth set into a thin, hard line. Was this the price he was going to pay to keep his promise? Did he have another option?
No, he decided, and brushed swiftly past Thomas into the clearing where they held meetings.
From here, he could see the faces of the older council members above the heads of the small crowd. Governor Ratcliffe seemed to be doing most of the talking, but the rest of the pompous old men were spouting their fair share of propaganda. And the men—they were cheering! Throwing their arms up in the air and singing that violent song he'd sung with them once before—we'll kill ourselves an Injun, or maybe two or three!
He felt like throwing up.
"Ah, I see Captain Smith has finally decided to join us. Found any gold yet?" Ratcliffe laughed, and the others followed suit. He steeled himself against their jeers, and approached the platform. Newport spoke from behind him.
"We were just getting the men ready to organize a scouting party to find the natives' little hiding place. Perhaps you'd be able to help, since you're off wandering about so often." Again there was laughter, but John paid little attention. He spoke in a low voice, "What do we need to find them for? They haven't done anything to us."
"You're perfectly right. But we need them. We need them to tell us where that gold is, and then we need them to give it up." Newport laughed at his cruel little joke.
"If you're so certain it's here, why don't you just ask them to help you find it without burning their village into ashes?"
"Come now, Smith! You're a man of the world! That's why we hired you—you've one of the best records for killing Turks of all the officers in the Royal Army! I don't know what you're trying to do with this little pax romana of yours, but you ought to realize that people don't work that way. Of course they wouldn't give it to us. If they did, they're even stupider than we thought." Ratcliffe was eyeing John suspiciously, his beady eyes glistening with a hint of perception. John wondered what ideas were forming in his mind, and how many of them were not too far from the truth.
A voice from the crowd piped up. "Come on, Smith! Ye aren't here t' be a coward! Savages don't have the brains to use it right, anyway! Prob'ly uses it to wipe their arses wit'!"
Something inside of John broke loose at that. Maybe it was guilt, maybe it was love, but whatever it was made his blood boil.
"THEY ARE NOT SAVAGES," he roared furiously. "I dare anyone else to call them that!" His chest was heaving, and he knew that he'd gone too far. The whole company surrounding him was looking at him in stunned silence—even Thomas's mouth was hanging open. He could hear the sound of blood thumping in his ears. Was time even moving anymore, or was it frozen?
His eyes closed and his fingers went to his temples. "I—I met one of them—"
"You what?" Someone had grabbed his shoulder. Ben Connolly. His face was changed—he looked outraged, betrayed, and there was something there that John had never noticed before: hate. Almost as soon as the hate had crept into his face, Ben jerked his hand away from John's arm as if he'd been burned.
"A savage?" Thomas was staring, angry and incredulous. Not Thomas. He couldn't be filled with hate, too—
"That's where he's been off to all this time! Cavorting with one o' them dirty Injuns," someone cried out.
Suddenly, John Smith knew what it was like to be the preyed and not the predator.
"It doesn't matter, what matters is that we need them. Desperately. You've all seen for yourselves how this colony's falling into ruin. They—they live here, they've been living here, and they could help us survive. We'll die this winter if they don't help us…" His arms were held out, beseeching someone to listen, to understand, but everywhere he turned, there were cold eyes and glares. Someone spat at him with remarkable aim. Ratcliffe's voice was cold, steely, and smug, as if he'd been waiting for this moment all along.
"No matter how much of a savage you've turned into, Smith, we will find that gold. And if you're the one to get in the way, you can be sure you'll be tried for treason and hanged." His lip curled in disgust. "You're dismissed from your position."
Even though it wasn't winter yet, John was sure he had never felt this cold.
He knew he had to warn her.
The moon had already risen, and John was sitting in his tent, quietly packing together all of the things he cared most about. He'd taken his side. If there was a battle, then John would be sure to be on the side of the Indians, and if they won, he was sure he'd never be allowed back in the white men's camp again. If they didn't win, it didn't make any difference—he'd be dead.
His throat was raw from the cold. He forced warm breath out of his mouth to try and warm his hands, and as he did so, he could only think about Pocahontas. Not dreamily, and not anxiously, but with a creeping terror the likes of which he'd never known. She thought that he'd be able to diffuse the situation. She'd be waiting for him to tell her so. How could he tell her instead that his people were planning to search the Indians out and destroy them? He hoped with all his heart that she'd told her people of her suspicions. He hoped that they'd already taken precautions, perhaps gathered many tribes together. But ultimately, that was all he could do. Hope.
He crept out of his tent as silently as possible—by now he'd absorbed Pocahontas' every move, and knew how to meld with the shadows. He heard voices coming from the campfire in the square, but he was fairly certain that he couldn't be seen. After slipping out of the gates quietly he breathed a small sigh of relief, and took off running once more, grateful to God that this time there seemed to be neither offending twigs nor protruding roots to halt his presence or give him away. He ran faster, it seemed, than ever before, until finally he could see the Grandmother Willow's familiar leaves floating in the breeze. Frantically he looked around for her until his eyes rested upon her, her skin glowing blue-white in the moonlight. Her countenance brightened immediately upon seeing him.
"John!" She ran toward him, and he toward her, almost as if neither was sure the other was real. She gasped when she saw his face, and he could only imagine how he looked. He felt like their meeting earlier was years and years ago. She jumped when he clutched her arms, almost shaking her.
"Listen. My men are planning to attack your people. You've got to warn them. I tried telling them, but…they wouldn't listen. It's like this gold fever has poisoned their minds. They wouldn't listen to any reason." She was looking at him with horror now, and she grabbed his hand forcefully, pulling him back toward her village.
"You must come. You must come with me and talk to my father!" Why was she talking nonsense? Didn't she see that he had already lost the battle? That no agreement he came to with her father would have any impact on the settlers' minds or their weapons?
"Pocahontas. Listen to me. Talking isn't going to do any good. They—they hate your people. And you all probably hate us too. Nothing we say can change their minds." But it seemed that she couldn't see reason either, and she only pulled at him more frantically, her face crumpled as if on the verge of tears. And then—there was a call. John felt the eerie voice of the willow tree again, but sharper, almost angry.
I have something to show you.
She dipped one of her branches into the midnight blue pool of water beneath her, making pink tinged ripples echo across the surface. John's brow furrowed; he didn't have time for this, they had to do something, not watch signs from spirit trees. Beside him, however, Pocahontas was more receptive.
"The ripples," she whispered, a breath of understanding that was beyond his comprehension. He was moved by it—she sounded like an oracle, a priestess, a wise woman.
So small. But look how they grow. Yet—someone must start them.
His glare returned—he was trying to help in the best way he knew possible, and she was telling him he knew nothing.
"They will not listen to us! I've fought in enough wars to know that!"
Her response blasted through his body.
Sometimes the right path is not the easiest! Only when the fighting stops can you be together!
Leave it to a spirit-possessed willow tree to make a man see sense.
Pocahontas's face was inclined up towards him, shining from the moonlight and from hope. Everything started to click into place. He realized his ultimate goal had been, from the moment he met her, to be with her—and that he'd do what had to be done to keep her. He touched his forehead to hers.
"All right. Let's go talk to your father."
And then he was enveloped in her arms, with the soft fringe of her deerskin dress blowing around him. He wondered why he'd never kissed her before, and before he had time to think too long, that was exactly what he was doing, and it was better than he'd even imagined. Here—this place—all he could feel was her, pulling him in, making him forget everything that was wrong in their lives. Only Pocahontas, with her hands on his back pulling him closer and closer to her, making his knees buckle with desire.
Perhaps if he hadn't been so lost he would have seen the shadow of another figure in the clearing, but he was too consumed by holding her waist and hoping it would never end.
The war cry pierced the air shrilly, and he barely had time to face his hidden enemy before he was knocked, breathless, to the ground. He gulped in a breath, and reflexively fended off the blow of a hatchet once he heard it whizzing toward him. He couldn't understand who this was or why this was happening, but there was little time, and no room. He expertly flipped his assailant off of him and was astonished to find a tall Indian man, his face nearly purple with rage. The man flew at him again, this time with a dagger, and somehow, John felt himself being forced back, back to the ground. His muscles were tensed more than they'd ever been before as he tried to keep the Indian from smothering him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Pocahontas yank at the man futilely, speaking in her native language, but the enraged man flung her off of him like a rag doll. This gave John an extra burst of strength; how dare this man attack him and hit a woman of his own tribe! But the burst of strength was not enough, and he could see the dull gleam of the polished stone dagger getting closer and closer to his neck.
He would not give up.
He couldn't fight it. He was too weak.
But he wouldn't give up.
As it turned out, he didn't have to—the gunshot blast ended his struggle. He felt a release, and from the loud splash of the water, he knew that his attacker had been hit.
What he didn't expect to see was Thomas running out, more panic stricken than he'd ever seen him, holding the gun that John had only a few hours ago taught him to aim.
"Is he—is he—"
"Get away from here," Pocahontas snarled at Thomas. Somehow John knew she would fly at him before she'd even decided it herself, and he caught her as soon as she rushed towards Thomas, her face twisted into a strange, fierce expression and her arms clawing violently.
"Pocahontas, it won't do any good—"
"HE KILLED HIM!" She moaned the way a trapped animal would moan, and struggled even harder to get free.
He turned towards Thomas. The fool had made a mess of things, but he'd saved his life, and didn't deserve to be punished for his choice. He barked viciously at him, to jolt him out of his stupor and make him run as fast as his legs could carry him.
"Thomas, get out of here. Get out!" The red-haired boy looked into John's eyes fearfully, an apology on his lips, but he obeyed his captain's orders and tore off into the forest.
The villagers came to investigate just as quickly as he'd thought they would. Immediately he was locked in the grip of arms as strong as iron bars; there was little use fighting, and he couldn't have if he'd wanted to. He could only send Pocahontas a desperate look as they dragged him away to what would certainly be his death.