The male residents of Plimouth were assembling at the Meeting House. Bella stopped in the doorway, her eyes widening in alarm. Weapons were piled by the door, leather bags of shot, small wood kegs of gunpowder, parcels of food, and skins filled with ale. The men idled in the aisles while waiting for the meeting to start, and their excited chatter was so loud that Edward couldn't hear Bella calling his name when she spotted him across the room.
Bella forced herself to take slow, deep breaths as she threaded her way through the crowd. The men she passed gave her glances of surprise, but no one tried to stop her.
Edward stood near the Masen pew, examining a long musket, turning it in his hands with awe on his face. Its flared stock was made of dark walnut, chased with filigree silver. Despite its lethal nature, Bella had to admit it was a beautiful thing. Muskets were hand-crafted individually, and gunsmiths took great pride in their artistry. It had apparently just been unpacked from its crate, because bits of straw still stuck to it. The barrel gleamed beneath its protective coating of grease, intended to protect it from the salt air of the voyage from England.
"It's called a 'dog lock'," the man beside him said. "Much improved from the matchlock design."
Bella said Edward's name and he turned to her with a smile. He and the man beside him gave Bella a bow and she responded with a brief curtsy. "Greetings, wife. May I present James Hunter? He is Captain Standish's lieutenant."
Bella extended her hand and James bowed over it. Something about him was off-putting, though she couldn't have said what it was. Perhaps it was his intense gaze. His eyes bored into hers, as if seeking a weakness, and there was a faint quirk to his lips, as though he were stifling a smirk.
Bella drew her hand away as soon as she could and resisted the urge to wipe it on her skirt. She turned away from James and focused her attention on the musket Edward held. "Wherever did you get that?"
Edward looked a little guilty as he lowered it. "I just bought it from Myles Standish. I used some of the money from your dower. I thought ... I thought a man with property should have a gun to defend it. And for hunting. It's a sound purchase."
She hid a grimace. Bella disliked guns, but if he wanted one, she wasn't going to argue. Not now anyway, when there were more important things at stake. She gestured at the gathered men. "Edward, all of this isn't necessary. I can find Alice."
"How?" Carlisle had come up from behind them. Edward handed him the gun and Carlisle examined it with an admiring gleam in his eye. Carlisle didn't own one himself. A musket was an expensive, high-status item beyond his reach. But there was no envy in his expression as he turned it in his hands, only pride that his son now owned such a thing. He said to Edward, "Captain Standish said Jamestown Colony has ordered a shipment of these for their defenders."
"That is what I heard as well." Edward grinned at his father as Carlisle handed the gun back to him. Carlisle gave Edward's back a few firm pats, and looked at Bella with that same satisfaction in his smile, proud that his son had married so well and was rising so high in the world.
Bella laid a hand on Edward's arm to draw his attention back from the gun. "I just need to find Jacob and speak with him. I'm sure there was a ... misunderstanding of some sort. I know I can find Alice. There is no need for everyone to be alarmed."
The images from Rose had been the indistinct haze of a toddler's memory. Rose remembered being on a path in the woods and seeing many Wôpanâak people, and being led down a thin path through the trees, the sound of Alice's sobs harsh in Rose's ear. Then, Alice had said she needed to urinate and walked off the path, behind a fallen tree. She set Rose down to spread her skirts. "Run!" Alice hissed. "Hide! Go!" Rose remembered the look of helpless terror on Alice's face most of all. That was what had frightened her so badly. She had scurried away and hidden in a hollow stump. The Wôpanâak had searched for her, but they'd looked in the wrong direction. Rose had fallen asleep and when she woke, she was alone, and so she had wandered through the trees until the guard had found her.
Bella had taken the little girl aside to "talk" to her, and people accepted that the usually-silent Rose would speak with Bella in private. She returned with the news that Alice was with the Wôpanâak, only to have it be greeted with alarm as Esme darted out the door to tell everyone that Alice had been kidnapped.
"Bella, this is an issue for the men. Myles Standish knows what we need to do. He understands the situation. That's why the governor put him in charge of the colon's security. He will get Alice back. Fear not." Edward nudged her toward the door. "Go on home now."
"Edward, you don't understand. I can -" Bella balked, planting her heels firmly on the ground.
A light pink flush rose on Edward's cheekbones as the other men turned to watch his wife defying his order. He pitched his voice low to avoid them being overheard. "Bella, I know you are used to living independently, but you are a married woman now and you must obey your husband."
Bella glanced around. The faces of the nearby men were expectant and James wore a strange little smile that made her skin crawl. She could not embarrass Edward further by refusing to obey his commands in front of them. Her teeth clenched, Bella bowed her head and said, "Yes, husband, as you say."
She turned and headed down the aisle. The crowd of men parted to let her pass, which demonstrated that her exchange with Edward had been noted by far more people than she'd realized. Bella exited the Meeting House, stepping out into the cool night air. She waited until the door closed behind her, glancing around to make sure she wouldn't be seen before she crept around to the side to watch through the chinking, as she had done the day they dug up the gunpowder barrels. She didn't have long to wait. Standish headed to the front of the room and raised his hands for silence. The men listened intently as he explained what he intended to do. They would leave at dawn, and go in force to the nearest village. That was Samsuot's village, where Jacob lived.
Bella thought quickly. If she headed out as soon as Edward fell asleep, she could reach the place where she usually met Jacob with hours to spare before dawn. She doubted Alice was in his village. Jacob would have known how foolhardy it was to keep an Englishwoman - whatever the reason - without sending a message to the colony. He would have brought her back, no matter how late it was, even if he had to send Alice alone to the gate. But perhaps he would know who had her and get her back before the men set out at dawn.
Esme had taken Rose to stay with her for the evening. Bella regretted doing that to the little girl, who would be unsettled again instead of getting a much-needed sense of permanence in Bella's household, but there was no help for it. Bella waited for Edward at the dining table, turning a spoon in her fingers, watching it catch the light of the candle. Most people in Plimouth kept their tables set as if for mealtime, with the best plate and serving dishes displayed on the mantle, but Alice wanted Bella to lock up the silver flatware. Bella had refused with a laugh. After all, if it was stolen, it would be easy enough to identify the thief, since hers was the only silver in the colony, and it had her family crest cast on the handles. She thought about the frown of concern on Alice's face as she -
Edward came through the door. Bella dropped the spoon and rose with a sigh of relief. "Edward."
He took off his boots and put his hat on its peg before coming over to give her a kiss. He held the musket in one hand. "Bella, I must speak to you."
"Certainly." She pulled out one of the chairs and took a seat.
Edward went over to the cupboard and opened one of the bottom drawers, where he found some old rags and a stoneware bottle of turpentine. He took another chair and sat down to clean the gun. He didn't look at her as he spoke. "I know you are ... not used to our ways. Perhaps things are different in England, especially for a woman of your class. But here, it is expected that a woman should obey her husband. The others ... well, people are willing to make some allowances for your recent arrival and your status, but Bella, I must ask that you consider..."
She waited to see if he would say anything else, but he dribbled more turpentine on the rag and resumed cleaning the barrel. The sharp scent stung Bella's nose.
"I am sorry, Edward." She knew he meant for her to consider how it would look to his neighbors if he appeared unable to keep his household in order. She put a hand on his knee and he stilled for a moment, looking up to meet her eyes. "I'll not argue with you in front of the other men again."
He gave her a small, crooked smile. "Thank you. As I said to you before, I do not wish to stifle your spirit. Nor do I ever wish you to feel I do not value your opinion. But there are certain standards of behavior ..."
She nodded. "I understand." And she did. She thought about how difficult it had been when she became Edward's wife the first time, trying to memorize the intricate etiquette of the court and enough of the Catholic faith to keep her from the stake. At least there had been no witchcraft trials here in the colonies.
"And I don't wish you to worry about Alice. Captain Standish will find her, I promise you."
Bella tried to smile. She watched him clean the gun and chewed the inside of her lip, hoping he would tire soon. But he did not want to go to bed until the gun had been cleaned and oiled properly. Once he had finished, he hung it above the mantle on a pair of pegs, standing back to admire it, his arm slung around Bella's shoulders. She tried to share his happiness, because it seemed this was the culmination of some dream he'd had as a boy, or a rite of male passage she didn't quite understand.
They finally retired to bed. She undressed down to her shift and braided her hair, leaving one of her easily-donned work dresses draped on the door of the cabinet. She knelt beside him for prayers and then climbed beneath the covers. For the first time, she hoped he wouldn't be in the mood for intimacy. All he did was yawn and snuggle against her back. Bella stared at the sliver of moonlight on the floor that spilled past the curtains and watched it until she judged enough time had passed.
She slipped from the bed and her feet sought the shoes she'd tucked beneath the bed. She stepped forward and her shift caught on something. She turned and saw it was Edward's hand that clutched the hem. And he was staring at her.
"Where are you going?"
She didn't answer. She couldn't lie to him.
"Bella, come back to bed."
She shook her head and tugged the hem of her shift out of his hand. "I have to go."
"No. It's foolhardy. Let the men - "
"They don't understand!"
He sat up. "And you do?"
Bella rubbed her temples. Of course Edward didn't know. To her she was only a woman who didn't comprehend the complexities of the political situation, the tensions between the various groups. And how could she when this sort of thing was kept from women's ears as being unsuitable for them? As far as Edward knew, she had only met Jacob once or twice in passing at the market, and now she was asserting she knew how to resolve their conflict.
She knelt by the bed and took his hand in hers. "Edward, do you trust me?"
He looked deep into her eyes. "I do."
"Then let me go."
"Edward, you don't understand. I must do this. I have no choice. I must prevent this war if I can. I have to go."
He must have saw the truth of it in her eyes because it took only a moment before he said, "Then I'll let you go."
She let out a heavy breath, and squeezed his hands.
"On two conditions. The first is I have to come with you."
Part of her shouted that he wasn't ready for this, but if it was the only way he would let her go, she had to accept it. She nodded.
"The second is, you have to answer all of my questions."
Bella closed her eyes. "Edward... there are some things you're not ready to hear. I promise I'll answer your questions, but I beg you to consider carefully what you're going to ask me. Make sure you're really prepared to hear the answer, because once words are spoken, they can never be taken back." A breeze stirred to seal her promise, and the curtains fluttered in its wake.
As he followed Bella from the house, Edward thought about her words, and how similar they had been to what Esme had told him. Remember that once words are said, you can never call them back.
Bella moved like a shadow through the night. In her dark blue dress, she was nearly invisible against the darkness.
At the palisade fence, she gestured for him to wait and returned moments later with a pole ladder. It was made from a single slender tree trunk with pegs pounded into the sides. Bella leaned it against the palisade and he watched in astonishment as she tossed her skirts over one arm and scurried up it, as sure-footed as a sailor on a ship's rigging. Edward wasn't quite as swift or graceful, but he dropped down over the side. Bella hopped up, grabbed the top of the ladder and pulled it over, hiding it in the fallen leaves of the treeline. She gestured for him to follow and they headed through the woods.
Bella seemed to know which way she was going, because she picked her path quickly, and her swift steps spoke of familiarity with the route. How many times had she been out here, he wondered. He trusted her as far as her fidelity was concerned, but it seemed his wife had a secret life of which he was completely unaware. He had no idea where to begin with his questions when it seemed there was so much to ask.
They had reached the edge of the woods and were now at the beach. Edward looked back and could see the dark outline of Plimouth in the distance. It was the farthest he had ever been from the colony, and for a moment, he felt a dart of fear, but he trusted Bella. She would not lead him into danger.
"What do you do when you come out here?"
"I swim." Her steps were lighter on the sand than his, barely leaving any impression, while his were heavy divots as he trudged after her, trying to keep up with her swift pace.
"Swim? In the sea?"
It was a stupid question because of course she meant the sea. It was just such a strange thought, a woman swimming in the waves.
"Is that something to which you were accustomed in England?"
She seemed to consider how to answer that one. "I was accustomed to it, yes."
"Your husband ... allowed it?"
She smiled back over her shoulder. "Sometimes, he joined me."
He had one of those odd flashes through his mind, seeing himself waist-deep in the sea water while Bella traced a pattern on his skin. He blinked and it vanished. It led him to the most important question of all.
"Why am I having these dreams?"
Bella lifted her skirts to step over a log. Edward took her elbow, not because she needed the assistance, but because his own instinct toward gentlemanly behavior was too strong to ignore. "The soul has memories the mind does not."
"Do you mean my soul actually witnessed these things?'
But how was that possible when he hadn't been born yet in some of the visions he'd had? Queen Elizabeth died in 1603. How could his soul have memories of her as a young woman?
"Why do I remember you being there?"
Bella paused for a moment. "Because I was."
"That's not possible."
She didn't reply, but it wasn't a question.
"Are you ... a witch?" He took off his hat and rake his hand through his hair in frustration. "I know not what else to call it. I am sorry to ask it ... but I must know. For my own peace of mind."
She stopped to look deep into his eyes. "No, I am not a witch."
He couldn't doubt her sincerity. Honesty shone from her. Whatever Bella was, it wasn't a witch, but he couldn't help a feeling of unease, born from spending a lifetime in a society that would call Bella's behavior ungodly, if not outright wicked. She had led Edward to many temptations, exposed him to many things outside the realm of his experience, outside the teachings of his church, outside the boundaries of his culture.
She continued to make her way through the forest. Her steps on the leaves were as soft as the whisper of snow. "There is a much wider world than the one you know, Edward. Far more than you could ever imagine."
Edward was beginning to believe her. Plimouth - the world he had known - suddenly seemed so tiny. He had been taught that the outside world was sinful, and his community had always stayed carefully isolated from the influence and knowledge of the wider world beyond. He thought of the books on Bella's shelf that had taught him of far distant places and cultures of which he had no knowledge, of creatures and customs that existed only in imagination. Maybe the elders were right when they said that knowing of these things was dangerous, because it had only made Edward more curious to discover what else was out there.
He clenched his hands as he asked another question that had been burning in his heart. It was one of which he feared the answer, but he had to know. Whatever words came from her - though they could never be taken back - he had to know. "Why did you marry me?"
She turned to him with those dark eyes so full of sadness that her gaze was like a leaden weight in his heart. "Because I love you."
He had barely had time to absorb the shock of that statement before a figure stepped out from behind a tree.
"Jacob," Bella said, her voice full of relief. She caught the Native man's hand with her own. They stood there in silence for a long moment while Edward gaped at the sight of his wife openly holding the hand of another man. She must have felt no shame in it, or saw it as perfectly innocent to do it in front of him, but Edward couldn't help but be shocked by it.
"This way," Bella said to Edward.
"What's happening? What's going on?"
"He knows who has Alice. He recognized them. It's not his village, but he knows where they are."
"How - ?"
Bella held up a hand. "I told you there were some questions you should not ask. Please, do not ask this one."
He swallowed with difficulty, but nodded. He followed the two silent figures through the woods, struggling to keep up with them. His footsteps were far louder than theirs, and he stumbled over rocks and limbs they seemed to avoid with graceful ease.
They entered the small Native village just as the sun was rising. It was the first Edward had ever seen and so his head swiveled as they walked, trying to take it all in.
It was different than he had imagined. The houses were dome-shaped, made of bundled reeds, or wide strips of bark, mounted on a wooden frame, large and commodious. Woven flaps of reeds or hide curtains covered the doors. The paths between the houses were neat and clean - far cleaner than Plimouth's streets, actually. He saw no garbage heaps beside the houses, and he wondered what they did with their waste.
Edward saw people moving between the houses, carrying baskets and bundles of wood. The women wore calf-length hide dresses, some with leggings below. From the sermons preached about their sinful lives and the gossip he'd heard, he had expected nudity, vice, and squalor. Instead, as he looked around, he saw industrious women bustling about their morning chores, a pair of children squabbling over a toy, a trio of young girls giggling as they gossipped ... If they were moved to Plimouth and dressed in wool, they would be just like the English.
They stopped to stare at the two pale strangers in their midst, but Jacob spoke quickly to one of the women, who disappeared into a house. Within a few moments, a man emerged, and he smiled when he saw Jacob. The two embraced, exchanging greetings.
A woman went into one of the wooden houses and soon came back out with a small group of people. Alice was with them, Emmett clutched in her arms. She gasped and ran to Bella and Edward with tears glinting on her cheeks. "Oh, praise God! Praise be to God!"
She seized Bella and Edward both in her arms, nearly dropping Emmett, who squealed in delight to see his brother. Edward took the boy from her, then had to stoop and pick up the hat Emmett knocked off with the excited waves of his arms.
Alice threw herself into Bella's arms and sobbed. She could barely get her words out between the wracking shudders. "I wasn't thinking. After I heard Esme scream I ran to get father, but I saw a savage woman on the path. I ran into the woods to hide from her and I got lost."
"Shh." Bella patted Alice's back while trying to retrieve the handkerchief she'd tucked in her waistband pocket.
"I tried to find my way back, but I couldn't. I found a creek and followed it, thinking it might lead me to the shoreline. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by them ... They took me with them and I was so afraid."
"You're safe now," Edward told her, trying to capture Emmett's waving arms before he could knock his hat off again. "Did they harm you?"
"No, they just brought me here and made me go into one of those huts." Alice blew her nose into the handkerchief Bella offered. "Is Rose - ?"
Edward's voice was soothing. "She found her way home."
"Praise God. I'd hoped she might be able to find help."
Jacob spoke Bella's name. She disentangled herself from Alice and went over to him to take his hand. He and Bella stood there for a moment, then Bella turned to Edward and spoke. "They found her lost. They decided it was too late in the evening to take her back to Plimouth. They decided to bring her here and take her back in the morning. They were getting ready to leave when we arrived, actually. They were unable to find Rose and decided to resume the search in the morning as well."
She smiled at Alice coaxingly. " 'Twas a simple misunderstanding. They tried not to frighten you, but they do not speak English and couldn't tell you why they had brought you here."
Alice must truly have been rattled not to question how Bella knew that. "I want to go home," was all Alice said. "Please, I just want to go home."
"All right, we -" Bella's head jerked up and her eyes went wide, as if she heard something Edward could not hear. She turned, searching the sky and then pointed, her other hand going up to cover her lips in horror. In the distance, a faint black smudge rose above the trees. Her eyes met Jacob's and they took off running for it. Her hand found Jacob's for an instant and she called back to Edward, "It's Samsuot's village!"
Edward ran as hard as he could, but he couldn't keep up with them. He still had Emmett in his arms and Alice called his name in desperation as she struggled to keep up. "Edward! Please don't leave me here with these savages!"
"Hurry, Alice," Edward grabbed her hand and tugged her along, but Alice wasn't used to running. She was slow and clumsy as she struggled to hold up her skirts, which kept getting snagged on branches and brush. His frustration warred with his sympathy; he wanted to leave her behind to try to catch up to Bella and Jacob, but he knew Alice was terrified. He tried to be as gentle as possible in coaxing her along.
All he could do was follow the twin trails of slightly disturbed leaves Bella and Jacob had left in their wake. He had to stop a few times to catch his breath, and slow to a trot at some points, but he finally made it to the clearing. What he saw stopped him in his tracks.
A house was blazing as the English outside watched. Myles Standish and James Hunter stood in front of it. Three bodies lay in the dust at their feet, Wôpanâak from the style of their clothing and long black braids. James was staring at something other than the fire, and smiling, if such a twisted, smirking sneer could be called a smile. Edward followed his gaze and saw that from a tree beside the house, a young man was hanging from a noose. His body swayed gently in the breeze. The upper branches of the tree were beginning to ignite from the blaze.
Myles Standish turned toward their little group and Edward saw what he had in his hand. It was a severed human head. Standish held it by its long, black hair.
Alice gasped and retreated back to peek out from behind a tree. Edward handed Emmett to her. "Stay here." She nodded, and Edward made his way to Bella.
Jacob was kneeling next to the sobbing woman, trying to comfort her. Bella was beside him, her hand on his arm. She dropped it as Edward approached. The reflected flames glimmered in her eyes as she looked over to where Standish watched the fire, his gruesome prize dangling from one hand. "It's the head of Sethwamat, Samsuot's brother."
The blazing house collapsed in a rush of flames and smoke, sending ash and sparks billowing into the bright morning sky. In the midst of the ash and glowing embers, Edward saw two charred bodies and had to avert his gaze. The horror of it was simply too overwhelming. His eyes met with the woman weeping on the grass and he was struck by the hatred in their depths. He wanted to defend himself, to protest he'd had nothing to do with this, but he was English, one of the enemy. Just like Edward had seen them all as faceless "savages" before today.
Standish marched over to Bella, carrying his grizzly, dripping prize. "Master and Mistress Masen, whatever are the two of you doing here with that savage?"
"We had gone to get Alice back," Bella said. Her voice shook from anger. "She was not here, as I'm sure you've discovered."
The warriors from the village where Alice had been overnight had arrived. As a group, they froze in their tracks in horror at what they saw... The burning house ... the young man hanging in the tree, swinging gently in the breeze ... the grizzly souvenir in Standish's hand ... A terrible cry ripped from them and they charged with their spears.
James actually laughed as he ripped his sword free from its sheath and charged forward to meet them. Standish dropped the head in the dust, whirled around and aimed his musket.
"NO!" Bella screamed, lunging toward him, but Edward grabbed her around the waist to hold her in place. Bella sobbed and her hands grappled at his arms, but she didn't pinch or scratch at him. Even in her extremity, she couldn't cause him any hurt.
The battle was short, but fierce. The English had superior weapons for hand-to-hand combat. Edward could hear the clacks of wood hitting steel, cries of pain, a few musket shots, but it was over almost before it had began. The Wôpanâak fled through the forest. James returned, his sword smeared with red, his face stretched in a hideous grin. "We have slain two of them, and wounded at least two more. But the chieftain escaped."
Edward turned his attention back to the huddled group of mourners in front of the smoking ruins of the house. Jacob dipped his hands in the hot ashes and smeared the black soot over his face, blended with his tears.
"We will get him the next time," Standish said, and retrieved the severed head. He surveyed Bella with frankly unfriendly eyes. "We should return home now."
With that, Standish turned his back on the bruning village, the bodies, the devastation he had wrought, and walked away. Edward looked around, feeling sick. "I ... I'm sorry," he said to the mourners, knowing they could not understand his words, but hoping they understood his intent. Jacob looked up at him for an instant and gave a small nod, but his eyes burned from his blackened face. Agony and rage shone from them, and Edward knew that look would haunt him. Perhaps for the rest of his days.
They weren't just "savages." They were families. People who loved and laughed and grieved. They had more in common with the English than they had differences. But isolated from them, knowing of them only from hostile stories, Edward had never understood.
Bella rose to follow Edward, but before she could step away, Jacob reached out and seized Bella's hand. She froze in place for a long moment before she pulled away to follow Edward. She wept silently as they walked, tears falling with every step. Edward put an arm around her shoulders and she leaned into him. Alice darted from behind her tree to huddle in the midst of Standish's soldiers, wanting their protection as they walked.
Edward licked his lips. "Bella ... I think ... You are communicating with Jacob in some way?"
There was a pause before she answered, but she said, "Yes."
"What did you learn before we left?"
Her voice was dull. "Captain Standish went into Samsuot's wetu and sat down with him as though to share the meal Samsuot offered. Sethwamat was there, and his friend, who brought his younger brother. Standish gave a signal, James blocked the door, and then Captain Standish grabbed the knife from Samsuot's belt and stabbed him with it. Sethwamat and his friend rushed over to try to stop it. It took ... The woman said it took them a long time to die. When they walked outside, they had killed two other warriors who had heard the commotion, and hanged the boy."
Edward didn't say anything. He didn't know what to say to something like that. He had to speak to the governor. Surely Bradford didn't want such tactics used.
What worried him was the possibility that Bradford did.
When they returned, Bella saw most of the village had gathered near the palisade. A cheer rose as they came through and the people saw that Alice and Emmett were with them. People thronged around Standish and James patting them on the back and congratulating them. It was a victory in their eyes.
Bella noted that neither revealed they had not been the ones to find Alice as they basked in the praise.
Standish impaled the head on a spike and set it above Plimouth's gate. "Let this be a warning to those who would threaten our safety," he said, and the people cheered.
Bella stopped and spun on her heel. "Sethwamat threatened our safety?" she demanded. Some of the heads in the crowd swiveled to face her. Others ignored it. It seemed Bella was becoming known for some eccentricity, and some were simply dismissive.
"He threatened me when he was last in Plimouth," Standish said. He glared at her.
"This man?" Bella met his eyes squarely and waited. "This man threatened you?"
"Nay, his brother."
Bella closed her eyes and dropped her face into her hands. Edward put his arms around her shoulders again and stared hard at those who were still looking at her until they turned away.
Esme wove her way through the crowd and grabbed Alice in a fierce hug. "Oh, praise be to God you're safe!"
Alice was stiff for a moment and then laid her head on Esme's shoulder and wept. She wrapped her arms around Esme's shoulders and held her just as tightly. The two cried while the village women laid their hands on their shaking shoulders and murmured their own thanks to God that Alice was back and safe, but Bella saw a few of them turn away to whisper to their neighbors behind their hands. A puzzled frown tugged at her lips.
Carlisle embraced his daughter and kissed her forehead. "Are you harmed?"
"Nay, Father, I am well."
Carlisle held her for a moment, his eyes closed, his lips moving in a swift prayer of thanksgiving. When he had finished. he kissed her again and turned to look at Edward. "We're called to a meeting, son. There's much we need to discuss."
"Aye, Father." Edward turned to Bella and she took his hands.
"Please," was all she said.
"I will," he told her.
Bella gave him a smile and a small squeeze of his hands before turning to Alice. "Let's get you home."
They made their way through the crowd to Edward and Bella's house. Bella let out a sigh of relief to be back in their quiet, safe little world. Emmett was not a bit disturbed by what had happened and set to playing with Rose as soon as she was plopped into the baby tender by Esme.
Alice wanted a bath, so Bella set up the laundry tub in the kitchen and heated kettles of water over the fire and got out a pot of her Castille soap.
Alice stripped off her dress, shift, petticoats, and stockings, before she settled into the tub with a sigh. "Oh, this is so much better. I feel filthy just from being there."
Bella didn't comment on that. "Are you hungry? Have you eaten?"
"They offered me their food, but I wouldn't eat it, of course."
Bella began to mix up some corn cakes. "Whyever not?"
"I didn't know what was in it. They could have been trying to poison me."
Bella snorted. "Don't be silly, Alice. If they'd wanted to kill you, they would have done it in the woods instead of bringing you back to their village."
Alice stopped soaping herself for a moment, a small frown on her face. " 'Twas the strangest thing. I couldn't figure out why they captured me. They didn't ... do anything to me. God protected me; I suppose that's the only explanation for it. They led me back to their camp and the women took me into one of those huts. I just sat there while they cooked and sewed. And then they went to sleep on those little platform beds. They'd made me up a pallet but I wasn't going to lay down on the dirty thing. Emmett and I just sat there until you came."
"They thought you were lost and were going to take you home in the morning," Bella explained. "They meant you no harm."
Alice shuddered. "I would have rather spent the night in the woods."
Bella sat down beside the tub. "They found a young woman with a baby lost in the woods, and they took her into their home to protect her and the child as a kindness."
Alice blinked. Bella suppressed a sigh and reminded herself that Alice had been raised from childhood to see the Natives as something other than people, and those kind of impressions were hard to shake. It might take a while to get through to her, as it had with her relationship with Esme. Bella thought back to the kind, open-hearted Alice she had been in her previous life. She knew that warm heart was still in there. It was just buried beneath layers of doctrine.
Alice surprised her by saying, "I suppose you're right... I hope everyone else sees it that way."
"I do, too," Bella said. She was thinking of the fire and the bodies lying in the dust. She hoped this incident didn't lead to further conflict.
It didn't occur to her that Alice might be referring to something different until later.
Edward came home late in the evening, having spent all day in conference with the other men of the town. He ate the supper Bella put in front of him, but he seemed so exhausted she didn't think he was even tasting it as he shoveled it into his mouth.
They went up to bed and he stripped off his clothing as he walked, dropping it on the floor behind him, unusual fort the usually-tidy Edward. He didn't even pause to kneel for his prayers as he collapsed on the bed as though it were hard to even drag himself up to the pillows.
Bella took off her dress and slipped in beside him, expecting he would be asleep before she even blew out the candle. His soft voice in the darkness surprised her.
"I spoke to Governor Bradford," he said. "He told me he has complete confidence in Captain Standish, even knowing what happened. He says Standish has to answer for his own conscience, but his actions are for the general good of Plimouth."
Bella shook her head. "How can he say that, knowing what happened?"
"He's loyal to Captain Standish because Standish took care of Bradford during that first terrible winter when so many fell ill. He believes Standish saved his life."
"That may be, but he may just start an unnecessary war and cost many innocent lives in the process."
"I've explained about Alice," Edward murmured. "But the situation at Weymouth still has them up in arms. They're hoping the retaliation against Sam and his brother will intimidate them."
"But that's a different village with a different chieftain," Bella protested.
Edward rubbed a hand over his face. "I know. I tried to explain that Sam had nothing to do with Alice, but ..."
Bella understood. Some in Plimouth saw all Natives as essentially a single entity and didn't see the distinction among groups as important. "What did Samsuot say to Captain Standish that had him so upset?"
Edward wriggled his way up to the pillows and lifted his hips to shove the covers down. "He mocked Standish for being short. He said 'You are a great captain, yet you are but a little man,' and then said that though he wasn't a chieftain, he was stronger."
Bella waited. "That's all?"
"Captain Standish took it as a challenge, that Samsuot would cause trouble. Then there was that snakeskin..."
"Was Tisquantum - Squanto - at the meeting?"
"No, he's off trading somewhere."
"Edward, from what Jacob told me, Tisquantum may be part of the problem. The Wôpanâak think he may be adding to the tensions in order to puff up his own importance and get more profits from his trading. Perhaps of we could all just sit down and talk about it -"
"How, Bella? What am I supposed to say to them? That my wife can communicate with the Wôpanâak in some mysterious fashion I do not even understand?"
Bella smoothed the bedcover with her hands. Therein lay the crux of the problem. How could she come up with an explanation of how she was able to communicate with Jacob that the English would understand, when she had not even yet explained it to Edward?
He rolled over to face her and she looked down into his eyes, so green the color could be discerned even in this low light.
"Should I be jealous?" Edward asked softly.
"Not at all," Bella said. She hoped he could see her honesty in her eyes. "You know well I would never betray you, and Jacob isn't interested in me that way. He has a wife he loves very much, and their culture abhors adultery just as Christians do."
"I know I can trust you," Edward said. "But it is unusual for us for a woman to have a male friend. Married women aren't supposed to associate with men outside of the presence of their husband."
"I don't mean for it to bother you." Bella nibbled on her lip. "But, Edward, I can communicate with Jacob. It seems ... Well, if I can prevent trouble by passing on what I learn from him ..."
"Bella, I don't think there's any way to prevent trouble now."
Bella had expected the next few days would be overwhelming as all of Alice's friends and acquaintances came to visit, but no one knocked at the door, except for Esme, who stopped by daily to bring Alice little treats and gifts. Bella was pleased to see the two of them beginning to forge a strong friendship. Alice was tentative at first, but Esme persisted in her kindness, and before long, the two of them were hugging before Esme left in the afternoons.
But as pleased as Bella was to see Esme and Alice's progress, she was concerned about the lack of visitors. Alice always had friends stopping by during the day, to borrow a needle or cup of flour, and while away a few minutes with giggles and gossip. It troubled Bella so much that she invented an errand for Alice a few days after their return to go to the Cooper house, where three of her friends lived as domestic servants.
Alice returned, and her face looked like a storm cloud.
"Whatever is the matter?"
"No one was home," Alice said.
Bella stared at her. That was preposterous. There was always half a dozen people working in the Cooper home, cooking for the field hands, spinning, making soap and candles, and the hundreds of other chores.
"No one would answer to my knock." Alice picked up the basket. "I'm going out to check the chickens for eggs."
Bella just nodded, though she knew there wouldn't be any since they'd already collected them.
When they walked down to the market four days after Alice's return, people they encountered greeted them politely, but did not stop to chat. Bella heard whispers as they passed, and she saw that Alice's skin was pale beneath the hectic pink flush that blotched her cheekbones.
"Whatever could that have been about?" Bella wondered as they headed home, but Alice would only shake her head. Afterwards, Alice refused to go to the market.
On Sunday, the bans should have been called for the second time about Alice and Jasper's upcoming nuptials, but the announcement was not made. Edward shot a glance at Jasper, but he did not look in their direction. At the afternoon break in the service, Jasper disappeared almost immediately. After the break, he was back in his pew, but vanished again as soon as the service ended that evening.
"He is no longer residing under my roof," was all Carlisle would say when Edward went to try to find Jasper.
Edward found him living in a makeshift lean-to at the edge of the reed marsh, a small campfire flickering before it. If it hadn't been for the fire, and the small stream of smoke he spotted as he headed down the path back toward Plimouth, Edward might have missed it. Jasper came outside as he heard Edward approaching and lifted a hand in greeting.
"Jasper, what in the world? Why are you out here?"
Jasper crouched down before the small fire and fed in another chunk of wood. "Just until I find a family to take me in. It should not take long. There are many who need a man's labor. I hope to be settled early this coming week."
"No, I mean why are you here? I thought you would continue to reside with Carlisle until the wedding."
Jasper cast a twig into the fire and said nothing.
"Why were the banns not called today?" Edward pressed.
"I don't wish to discuss it." Jasper wouldn't look at him, his gaze fixed on the fire.
Edward crouched down beside him. "Jasper, we are to be brothers, are we not? I thought of you as such already. Can you not tell me what is amiss?"
Jasper swore softly. He rubbed his jaw before he looked at Edward. His eyes were troubled. "I don't think I can marry her, Edward. The people in Plimouth ... Well, they say ... that is ... Some people think she was ... abused by the savage men while she was with them."
"I can set your mind at ease on that account. She was not. Bella took care of her when she came home. She didn't have so much as a bruise."
"Glad I am to hear it, but ... the point is, people think she was shamed by them. I'm not sure if I want to marry a woman with that reputation."
That night, as they got ready for bed, Edward took the brush from Bella and stroked it through her hair, enjoying its dark satin gleam. As he brushed, he told her of his encounter with Jasper that evening.
"Jasper says he can't marry Alice any time soon. Not when everyone thinks she has been 'shamed' by the savages. He says he'll reconsider nine months from now. If they married now, people might think it was to conceal a pregnancy, and if she became with child from Jasper ... its paternity would always be in question. Maybe in nine months, the gossip will have died down, and he will reconsider."
Bella's horror-struck eyes met his in the mirror. "This is just wrong. Even if she was raped, it wouldn't have been her fault!"
Edward sighed. "Bella, fault is not as issue. She's seen as ... soiled."
Bella groaned with frustration. In this society, there were three acceptable states for a woman: virgin, married, or widow. Alice was seen as none of these, outside the boundaries of decency, tainted by what the gossips believed had happened to her.
Bella's stomach felt like a roiling pit of anger, like a pot about to boil over. It was so grossly unjust.
She looked into the mirror at the reflection of the man she loved, standing behind her and brushing her hair as he had done so many times in his lifetime before. Bella closed her eyes for a moment.
This was his society, and she had agreed to abide by it, but her very nature cried out against the cruelty she saw. She took a deep breath. She had to live within this culture for him, but she made a quiet vow to work to change what she could from within.
Esme arrived in the morning with a loaf of fresh bread and some berries for the johnnycakes Bella was making. She kissed Alice on the cheek and Bella was pleased to see Alice return it. At least one good thing had come of all of this.
"You're here early," Alice noted.
"Carlisle left early," Esme explained, "so I thought I'd come here for breakfast."
"Why is he about so early?"
"Governor Bradford wished to see him. Squanto is lying in the governor's house, bleeding from the nose. He's been poisoned, they say."
- Dog lock muskets were in use in the colonies as early as 1620. Several have been found in archaeological digs in Jamestown, and in Yorktown.
- The raid and the beheading of Pecksuot's friend Wittuwamat happened much as I described, though I've made "Sethwamat" Samsuot's brother. It was Wittuwamat's younger brother who was hanged afterward. He's described as an adolescent in some accounts, but one I read said he was about eighteen. The accounts say it was remarkable how many wounds it took to kill them. Standish took Wittuwamat's head back to Plimouth.
- Blackening the face was a Wôpanâak mourning ritual.
- Women who were abducted by the Natives often faced shame when they were returned, their reputations in tatters. Victims of sexual assault in modern American culture sometimes still endure victim blaming and shaming, but in those days, it was absolutely brutal. Women were ostracised from "decent" society if it openly known what had happened to them.