Saturday, February 9, 2013

Hot Excerpt: Destined to Love by Shirley Martin

Destined to Love
Captured by the Indians as a child, Rebecca is torn between her love for her adoptive people and her yearning for the white man, Daniel Chamberlain.  
In the midst of the French and Indian War, a time when no Englishman is safe, they find their love may not be enough to keep them together.
"...deeply satisfying."  ~ Escape to Romance

"Very good...this is a tale reminiscent of "The Last of the Mohicans." ~ Romantic Times


Chapter One

Southwestern Pennsylvania, 1754

The young woman stared upward to follow the flight of a scarlet tanager, delighting in the flash of color against a clear blue sky. The women's chatter and the thump, thump of deer shoulder hoes broke the stillness of the afternoon, a welcome relief from her tiresome day. She shaded her eyes against the glare, but the icy sting in the air belied the sun's brilliant shine. Spring's arrival hadn't brought any warmth to the village of Amigaki, she thought with a shiver.
"Are you tired?" Snow Woman asked. Her gaze made a wide sweep of the field. "We still have more of the corn field to hoe."
"Oh, no," Rebecca answered in Lenape, studying her adoptive mother with affection. The vermillion spots on Snow Woman's cheeks shone a fiery red, a color in sharp contrast to the nut brown of her wrinkled skin. A stiff breeze caught a strand of her second mother's hair, releasing it from the snakeskin ribbon that bound the black locks in place. After all these years, Rebecca wondered if it was time for her to dye red spots on her cheeks, too, and bind up her hair like her mother's, instead of letting it fall loosely down her back.
She brought her mind back to her mother's question. "Not tired. Only thinking how nice it will be when warm weather comes. I can swim in the river then." She inhaled deeply of the crisp spring air, the aroma of freshly-hoed earth, the fresh scents of the woods. The budding maple trees splashed a reddish glow across the forest, and flowering dogwood formed a white filagree over the gray, rolling hills. Beautiful!
Her mind wandered back to the time of her capture by the Caughnawagas years ago, when she was only nine. Reviled and treated like a slave, she endured her captivity until a band of Lenapes raided the Caughnawaga village and brought her here to Amigaki three years ago.
Snow Woman had adopted her, treating her like a true daughter, helping to erase--if only in a small way--the death of her family and the horrors of her life with the Caughnawagas.
She cast aside these oppressive memories as a dim figure on horseback caught her gaze, a man who rode eastward along the winding trail that led to the village, less than half a mile away. Touching Snow Woman's arm, she nodded toward the man on the horse.
"Mother, who is that?" she asked in an excited whisper. She hadn't seen any strangers since she'd come to live among the Lenapes. Her adoptive mother had always hustled her away whenever a newcomer came to the village, keeping her well-hidden, especially from white people. She supposed that now Snow Woman felt more certain of her attachment to the Indian way of life.
Snow Woman rested her hands on her hoe and stared across the field. "The fur trader. . .” A white man!
"We call him Lokwalend because he travels so much." She glanced at Rebecca. "We adopted him into the tribe. This time of year he usually has several horses with him, carrying supplies for the village. Something must be wrong," she continued with a worried frown. "We gave him our furs to trade a long time ago. So where are our provisions?" She shook her head, then dropped her hoe on the ground to head for the village. "Come, let us see what the matter is."
The horseman quickly covered the distance to Amigaki, his mount's hooves clattering on the rocky ground. Unable to shift her eyes from the stranger, Rebecca observed how tall and upright he rode in the saddle, like a conquering hero, she mused with increasing curiosity. From all directions, the women left the field, rushing to the village.
Rebecca wanted to see him, and if she could summon the nerve, talk to him, too. But would the Lenapes disapprove? Uncertain what to do, she threw her hoe aside and hurried past the furrowed rows, hastily brushing her deerskin skirt as she ran and tucking loose strands of hair behind her ears.
The rider tied his horse to a low-hanging branch of an oak tree near the entrance to Amigaki, then headed for the council house at the center of the village.
With studied calmness, Rebecca strolled past the villagers and listened to their troubled voices but kept her gaze on the trader. When she reached a giant oak near the center of the village, she stopped at a spot where the tree's massive trunk and wide-spreading branches gave ample concealment, a chance to quietly observe everything, an opportunity she couldn't resist.
From her vantage point, she looked out over the many log houses that dotted the village--more than twenty. The blue-green Allegheny River flowed to the west, spawning a wide meadow lush with grasses and wildflowers. My home now, she thought, grateful the Lenapes had accepted her as one of their own, wanting so much to have a family, to belong.
All the villagers turned as the trader strode toward them, a look of worried expectancy on their faces. Men of all ages clustered in groups, and with quiet words and many gestures, they revealed their concern. As the newcomer moved amongst them, good manners prompted the Indians to drop their melancholy expressions.
The stranger embraced one of the young men. "Hello, Gun Barrel. How's that new baby of yours?" With a quick smile, he turned to another. "And Forest Walker, I remember you're going to be a father soon, too."
Well-hidden behind the oak, Rebecca was surprised that he spoke Lenape as well as she. For some reason she couldn't define, she didn't want him to see her yet. Later she might summon the nerve to approach him.
After White Eagle, the sakima, greeted the visitor, the men eased to the hard ground and sat cross-legged in rows, the women sitting opposite them. With somber faces, they waited for the fur trader to speak.
Rebecca hurried to sit in the last row with the other women, shimmying into a comfortable position. She pushed her long- flowing hair from her face and tried hard not to stare, her gaze shifting from the ground to the council house, finally settling on Lokwalend.
The fur trader walked with an air of casual assurance, like one accustomed to dealing with others. A stiff breeze lifted a lock of chestnut-colored hair from his forehead and fluttered the fringe of his deerskin shirt. His skin glowed a rich tan, matching the hue of his shirt.
"My brothers!" he began. "I know you wonder why I haven't brought the goods you paid for with skins and furs. I recently returned from Philadelphia. There, I found the supplies hadn't yet arrived. I shall leave for Philadelphia again as soon as possible to see if your supplies have come, for I'll not cheat you of what is yours, as other fur traders have. But now--"
Looking from one villager to another, he stopped in midsentence and stared--at her! Rebecca lowered her eyes to study the ground, then glanced up again, breathless.
He resumed speaking. "Brothers! There is another matter I must speak to you about. As you know, the French say this land is theirs--" Angry murmurings erupted from the villagers like the frenzied buzzing of bees--"and they threaten to take it by force. My people, the English, have tried to live in peace with you. We don't intend to let the French take this land from you. Some say the English won't lift a finger to save you from the French, but you mustn't listen to the singing of ugly birds."
Rebecca viewed his every gesture and listened to every word, thinking the Lenape language had never sounded so beautiful. She inched closer to the edge of the row to see him better as thoughts of warmth and light, strength and courage, teased her mind. He stood tall and straight, not slouching or bandy-legged like the other white men she remembered from her childhood. She guessed he was six or seven-and-twenty, not a young boy but a man of experience. Where did he live? she wondered, but quickly dismissed the question. This white man, this stranger, belonged to another life, another world, a world she could no longer claim as her own.
"Brothers! I intend to leave soon for the Monongahela River. The English are building a stronghouse there for your protection. Then I hope to come back to you within a few months with your provisions." The fur trader paused, his gaze covering the villagers. "Ninachtak, I have nothing more to say."
He waited for the sakima to rise and spoke quietly with him for a few minutes. Legs spread apart, arms folded across his chest, he had a calm look on his face, as if nothing ever bothered him. The other villagers rose, too, talking excitedly among themselves, a few women returning to the corn fields, some of the younger men heading for the river to fish.
Rebecca remained in the background, watching them, listening to every word but continually shifting her gaze to the trader.
"Will the English be able to save us from the French?" Gun Barrel cried, other young men clustered around him.
"We must depend on ourselves," Gray Wolf said. He wore a robe of brightly-dyed turkey feathers thrown over his left shoulder, his face showing grim determination. A deerskin tobacco pouch hung around his neck, the scent of tobacco drifting in the cool spring breeze. "And," he added, "never depend on the English."
Oblivious to the talk around her, Rebecca moved closer to the council house. A mangy dog snoozed next to the house, snoring softly, twitching in his sleep. She knelt in the dirt to stroke the animal but watched Lokwalend, pondering if she should approach him after he finished talking to White Eagle.
Keen anticipation blended with dread as she collected her courage for the encounter. Her heart thudded, her mouth as dry as a cornfield in August.
Her mind worked furiously as she thought of all the things she'd like to say to the fur trader. Would he consider her too bold if she asked him to get her a looking glass? And, oh! a book. More than anything, she wished she had something to read, a pleasant change from hoeing and pounding corn, all the other chores that demanded her time.
He strolled toward his horse, glancing from side to side, as though looking for someone. On a flight of wild imagination, she dared to wish he looked for her, but if she didn't stop her woolgathering, she'd miss the chance to talk to him. She'd speak in English, she decided, hoping she'd remember the words. With rising excitement, she rose to brush the dirt from her knees and combed shaky fingers through her hair.
"Sir!" She rushed to catch up with him. "Please wait!"

Copyright (C) 2012 Shirley Martin

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