Some February Romance… Sort of.

Posted: February 4, 2019 in Uncategorized

People tell me, “You should write romance! It’s popular… It sells well…”

That sounds great in theory, but the truth is, I’m not that kind of writer. The stories I write are murderous, disturbing, or just plain weird. When I attempt to write romance, something terrible is bound to happen…

Prairie Passion

The verdant sea of prairie grasses rippled in the ever-present breeze; the spring greens had not yet made the transformation to summer’s golden hue. The lone rider in the distance might have been a mirage, shimmering against the endless blue horizon. The girl had been making her short pilgrimage for several weeks, slipping away as often as possible to ride across the plains to the spot near the creek where she had first sighted the boy.

Sarah could shirk her chores without fear of punishment because not much was expected of someone in her condition. Her sisters and cousins glowered at her, jealous at being left behind to do chores Sarah skipped in favor of riding her horse, Sable.

Sarah ignored the scornful looks and whispers as she rode through the settlement. The other teenage girls were hard at work scrubbing pots and hanging laundry.

“She rides that horse with no saddle! How barbaric!”

“She does not look ill. I think she is pretending.”

“No bonnet! Positively shameful!”

In spite of their derision, the other girls were grateful Sarah kept her distance. Nobody wanted to be near her, for fear of contracting her disease. Sarah was content in her role as village pariah; she played in the sunshine without wearing her sunbonnet, rode her horse bareback and exhibited a host of unladylike behaviors without reprimand.

The doctor back in Philadelphia told Sarah’s parents she wouldn’t survive past her teen years, which rendered her useless. Nobody would marry a woman incapable of pulling her weight, who would not survive long enough to raise children. What man would want a wife doomed to die from consumption?

Hard labor aggravated Sarah’s condition. Any strenuous activity triggered a violent cough and rendered her breathless. According to the doctor, fresh air and gentle activity for the remainder of her days was the best thing for her. Sarah was capable of doing light work like sewing but her parents didn’t force work upon her. What was the point? Any time spent teaching valuable life skills to a girl who would soon be dead was time better spent elsewhere.

They had joined several other British families in a northbound wagon train, leaving the city in search of a new life in a new land. The vast fertile plains of Canada offered a wealth of opportunities. After a slow, tedious journey, the Worthingtons and their companions made their homes in a tiny settlement on the plains, in a region that would later become known as Saskatchewan.

Sarah first encountered the boy in early April when she stopped to rest at a pretty little stream during one of her rides. Sable was first to detect a strange presence. The mare was drinking when suddenly her head sprung from the water. Her body stiffened and she spun around, making a whuffing sound through her nostrils. Her ears pointed forward toward the source of the new scent, so much that the tips nearly touched.

“Shh…” Sarah whispered, “What is it, my dear?”

She tied Sable to a nearby bush and went to investigate on foot.

A small hill obscured her view. Sarah crept to the top, staying low to the ground and using the talls grass for cover. As she mounted the crest of the hill she heard the sound of water splashing. She lay in the grass and peeked down the slope.

The creek widened into a small pool as it flowed against the base of the hill. A small grove of trees stood their ground at the water’s edge. A flash of white in the water drew her attention. A horse, mostly white with rust-colored splotches stood chest-deep in the water. The animal wore no saddle or bridle, and appeared to be alone. As Sarah watched, bubbles appeared beside the horse and then a glistening black head bobbed up, breaking the surface with barely a ripple. A person had swum under the horse’s belly while it stood calmly, playing in the water as it drank.

Sarah stifled a giggle at the paint’s amusing antics. The horse submerged his nose in the water all the way up to his eyes and blew bubbles, then tossed his head high, splashing his owner and curling his upper lip in a comical horsey sneer. The boy laughed and dove beneath the surface once again, this time emerging on the opposite side of the horse.

He was the most beautiful boy she had ever seen. His waist-length raven hair and bronze skin told Sarah exactly what he was. He was an Indian, or ‘Injun’ as her uncles called his kind. The government had assured them the savages were under control, confined to sections of land reserved especially for them. The rest of the region was ready for new settlers. Sarah wondered if her father and uncles knew the Indians were in such close proximity to their new home. She watched the boy for as long as she dared, then scurried back to her horse before her fickle cough could betray her. She mounted Sable and rode like the wind back to the settlement, checking over her shoulder several times to ensure she wasn’t being followed.

Sarah didn’t tell her family about the boy. She was afraid her parents would forbid her from riding away from the settlement again. She couldn’t erase his image from her mind: his rich brown skin, so different from her own; the longest, sleekest, blackest hair she had ever seen. She wanted to see him again.

She returned several times to the spot where she had seen the boy but saw no sign of him save for a few unshod hoofprints in the mud of the creek bank. Then one day, he was there. She sneaked to the hillside as she had before, trying to be as stealthy as possible but this time Sable betrayed her. The mare was in season and resented being left behind when she could smell a potential mate just around the bend. Just as Sarah reached the hilltop, Sable let out a shrill whinny, pawing the ground with her front hoof in frustration. The paint horse whirled toward the sound, head high, ears at attention. The boy looked around fearfully, as if expecting an attack.

Sarah knew the best thing for her to do was flee.

Instead, she stood and waved, trying to look as friendly as possible.

The boy looked nervous but clearly relieved to see the intruder was just a girl.

Sarah’s heart thudded in her chest as she approached, descending the gentle slope one tentative step at a time. If she was to be captured by savages, so be it. It was too late to run away now.

Sable neighed again. The painted stallion jerked away from his distracted owner and bolted toward the sound and scent of the mare.

“Sable!”

Sarah turned and began running back to her horse, unsure of how she was going to defend the mare against the advances of a stallion with one thing on his mind.

The Indian boy followed, shouting commands at his horse in a strange language. By the time they reached the horses it was too late; the stallion had already mounted Sable and she wasn’t objecting in the least. It was best to let nature take its course. Sarah turned to the boy, who now stood beside her.

“Forgive me… my horse…” she gasped, gesturing helplessly at the horses. She was unsure of what to say but decided a greeting would be the best way to start.

“Hello,” she said, though she didn’t expect him to understand.

Her jaw dropped in shock when he replied in English.

“Allo.” He grinned, revealing a brilliant mouthful of white teeth. His eyes danced, glittering like twin beads of obsidian beneath thick dark lashes. The boy’s dusky beauty stole Sarah’s breath more than her illness ever had. The elegant lines of his face and high, sculpted cheekbones were unlike any man she had seen. With no sign of facial or body hair, his age was difficult to discern but he had the lanky, lean-muscled build of a young man about sixteen years of age.

“Y-you speak English?” she stammered, nonplussed but pleased nonetheless.

The young man nodded, the playful smile never leaving his face.

“How? You’re a… a…”

He laughed. “I am savage? I still speak. I am like you.”

Sarah blushed. “Please forgive my poor manners. Of course you speak. I just didn’t expect you to speak my language. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Sarah Elizabeth Worthington.” Conscious of her manners for the first time in her life, Sarah bobbed a small curtsy and offered her hand for the gentleman to kiss.

The boy declined to take her hand and laughed heartily, making Sarah’s cheeks flush an even deeper shade of crimson.

“Sare,” he said. “Very nice. I am called Erod.”

“Erod? Is that an Indian name?”

He shook his head, still smiling. “No. Your words. Not Indian. I am Cree. In my words I am called Ka-nen.”

His thick accent reminded Sarah of the way the Dubois family spoke. The Dubois’ were a French family that had joined the settlement a few months back. Sarah had found it difficult to understand them at first, until she became accustomed to their strange pronunciation of English words. This boy spoke in a similar fashion, but the accent was different from that of her French-Canadian neighbors.

“Please forgive my horse,” Sarah said, “It is her time.”

The boy nodded, then shrugged in resignation. “‘Orse… will be ‘orse.” Sarah joined him when he laughed, trying to conceal her embarrassment at the intimate nature of their horses’ activities. She liked the idea of Sable having a foal the following year, especially one as pretty as the Indian (Cree) boy’s horse.

They left the horses to their own devices until their coupling was finished, then Sarah brought Sable to the grove of trees beside the pool where she could watch her.

The two teens sat facing each other on the grassy bank. Sarah, with her legs stretched to one side in a proper ladylike pose and the boy, cross-legged in the style of his people. Sarah was relieved to be off her feet, for she was beginning to tire and didn’t want to succumb to a spell of coughing in front of her alluring new acquaintance.

“Allo, Sare,” the boy said, tilting his head slightly as he appraised her with his eyes. His hair fell past his shoulder in sleek black wisps, brushing the tips of the grass blades where he sat.

“Hello… Erod. Tell me, how is it that you speak English?” she asked.

“L’ecole… school.” He shrugged. “Dey take us away, put us in school. Bleck-robe teach us English. Teach us God and give us new name. Now I am older, school finish and I sent back to family, but family in different ‘ome now.”

“Black robe? You mean a priest?”

“Yes, prrreest.” He rolled his R’s the same way Sarah’s French neighbors did.

“And the priest named you Erod?”

“Yes, from Bible. Hhh – erod.” He struggled to pronounce the H sound. “Bleck-robe say, ‘For even de savage must ‘ave name’.”

“Herod! Truly? That is the name he gave you? How barbaric!” Sarah tried to imagine what it must have been like for those children. Taken from their homes, separated from their mothers and fathers, given different names and forced to learn a new language. It was the complete opposite of what she had been told about the “savages” who had inhabited the land prior to her family’s arrival.

It sounded positively brutal, but she believed him. Even though she had just met the young man, Sarah did not feel that he was capable of lying to her.

“And what shall I call you?” she inquired, “I much prefer your other name. Ka-nen?”

“Den, you call dat.” He beamed, more stunning than sunlight, deep dimples pitting his smooth brown cheeks. Sarah longed to touch his face, to see if his skin was as soft as it looked.

Sarah spent the rest of the afternoon with her new friend, talking and laughing as they lay on the carpet of lush spring greens at the creek’s edge. There was no awkwardness between them and no barrier in communication, even with his broken English.

She stayed as long as she dared, then galloped home as fast as Sable’s hooves could carry her. She hugged the horse tightly with her knees, then dropped the reins and spread her arms wide, pretending they were wings. She felt light as a ball of dandelion fluff, drifting on the wind. She had a secret; one she could not share with anyone. Sarah had a secret new friend whom she planned to see again, very soon.

As spring gave way to summer and the sun’s heat transformed the prairie from green to gold, every fair day saw Sarah mounting Sable to ride away across the plains. The other teenage girls glared at her over their daily chores, spiteful comments passing between them. None of the other girls were her friends; even her sisters barely spoke to her. Their jealousy that Sarah was free to do nothing but play every day overshadowed any pity they may have had for her illness and inevitable early death.

Sarah didn’t care that she didn’t have a close friend in any of the settlement girls. She didn’t need them. She had Kanen. He was her best and only friend. He had become her entire world.

One day he became even more.

As the summer sun’s intensity grew, swimming became a regular part of their ritual. Sarah wore nothing when she swam for fear of alerting her mother to the fact that she had been in the water. Swimming was a forbidden activity because Sarah’s mother believed it was dangerous. Holding her breath underwater could trigger an involuntary coughing spell and cause her to drown. When it came to forbidden territory, Sarah was already well beyond the point of no return, so what was one more broken rule? She felt healthier than she had since she could remember. With regular exposure to the sunshine, Sarah’s skin lost its sickly white hue and developed a healthy brown glow like Kanen’s, though not as dark. She didn’t feel shy around Kanen, who spent most of his time half-naked anyway.

It was just a matter of time before their relationship made the natural progression from friends to lovers. Sarah met Kanen at every opportunity, shedding her clothing as she skipped down the hillside to their secret meeting place beside the creek. He was always waiting, as if he knew exactly when she would arrive.

Every rendezvous was a ritual in passion. She splashed into the tepid pool, falling into his lean, muscled arms. The two devoured each other’s bodies with insatiable hunger, each exploring every inch of the other. Swimming forgotten, they fell to the water’s edge in a tangle of arms and legs, coupling with the urgent fervor of youth in love. For hours afterward they lay, fingers entwined, soaking up the sun’s glorious rays with their unclad bodies. Time stood still for the lovers as they talked and basked in the glow of their union.

Sarah now had an even bigger secret, and it made her feel deliciously sinful.

* * *

It was late August. The hairy tips of mature wheat stalks brushed Sable’s belly as they shooshed through the golden sea at a leisurely jog. Sarah was as eager to meet her friend and lover as Sable was hers, but she held the mare at a slow pace to keep her from overheating in the stifling temperature. They were later than usual and Kanen had probably been waiting for a while. Sarah looked forward to a refreshing dip in the water even though the creek was almost dried up and their swimming hole was little more than a large mud puddle.

When they reached the base of the hill just before their secret meeting spot, Sable raised her head, pricking her ears toward a distant sound. Her trot slowed to a nervous, hesitant walk. Something wasn’t right. Sarah listened. She detected the faint sounds of men shouting and dogs barking. She jerked the mare to a stop and threw the reins over the bush before racing to the top of the hill.

Sarah’s hand flew to her mouth. Eyes wide, she bit her lip to stifle the scream that threatened to escape.

She had suspected a few days earlier that someone was following her but had dismissed it as nothing more than imagination. Now she knew her instincts had been correct.

She recognized the group of men below. They were her uncles and cousins. Her older brother Seth was among them as well. The men gathered around a carcass of some sort, letting their hunting dogs rip and tear at it. The men’s shouts projected a mixture of rage and glee as they rained relentless blows upon their victim. Seth drew his knife from its sheath and swung it down in a forceful arc. Sarah glimpsed bronze skin, then an angry splash of red as the knife cleaved a piece of flesh from the lower body and tossed it to the nearest dog.

She screamed and screamed at them to stop, but her lungs failed her. Her voice was absent. Nothing more than a wheezy whistle issued from her lips.

Seth’s knife swept downward once more and his arm moved in a sawing motion.

Sarah found her voice, then lost her breath as her wail of agony turned into a spastic coughing fit.

Her brother stood, triumphant. His bellow of laughter echoed across the plains. Seth raised his arm above his head in a proud display, holding his dripping, bloody prize by its long raven locks for all to see.

Sarah didn’t remember mounting her horse, and the frantic gallop back to the settlement was but a blur in her memory.

* * *

The cruel prairie wind whistled and moaned around the lone horse and rider as they made their weary trek across the whitening plain.

Sarah’s rough, phlegmy cough worsened by the day. She knew her time was as short as the breaths she struggled to take. She would be fortunate if she survived long enough to give birth to the child that squirmed within her swollen belly. The mare was becoming heavy as well, from her encounter with the paint stallion. Sable would experience the joy of motherhood long after the consumption robbed Sarah of hers.

Even though she had committed the most damnable of sins, Sarah never thought her family would turn against her.

The insults stung like stones flung from the smug lips of the settlement girls, even her own sisters:

“Filthy, unclean whore!”

“Defiled by Satan!”

“Take your cursed spawn away from us!”

She was driven from the settlement into the frozen November wasteland, exiled to die alone on the plains. She was going to die soon anyway, they surmised, so they sent her away before she gave birth to the abomination she carried in her womb.

Sarah’s exile was a blessing in disguise. Living the remainder of her days in the settlement would be a far greater hell than she would experience dying alone on the prairie, near the place where she had last seen her life’s one true love.

She had only one destination in mind. One option.

She prayed and prayed to the Lord Almighty, begging Him for forgiveness for her sins. She prayed they would have mercy on her; that they would see fit to accept his child after what had been done to him.

She spoke to him in her head as she had done so many times since his death.

“Kanen, give me strength. Please ask your elders to have mercy on me. I throw myself at their feet.”

She had followed the creek upstream from their meeting spot, the place where the horror of horrors had taken place, and found the faint trail leading away from the water toward the Indian reservation. Thin tendrils of smoke rose in the distance.

She had arrived.

 

 

Copyright © 2012 Mandy White

(Previously published in Passion’s Prisms by WPaD)

 

 

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Comments
  1. Reblogged this on West Coast Review and commented:
    Wonderful story for February – a romance of a sort, a historic story, a brave story. Thank you Mandy White.

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