Call the FireThe braves stretched his arms wide and bound him tightly to the two posts that stood in the center of the village. The area looked well used and he didn't miss the slashes that ran in ragged random across the wood of the posts any more than he missed the fact that the rawhide thongs that bit so roughly into his wrists were new. He was bruised and bleeding from the treatment he'd already received at the hands of the hunting party he had run into. Looking around at the growing crowd and the look on their faces, he suspected that he'd just tasted the edge of what he was going to go through tonight. In a vague way, it occurred to him that this could be it, "the end", but he was more concerned with what was going on now than with what might or might not happen later. And right now, his captors were in the process of describing how difficult he had been to capture from the look of things. The man they addressed looked like someone important by the respect the rest of the crowd was giving him. Everything about him was dark. Including the pleased look in his cold eyes. The crowd was starting to work themselves up now. Never a good sign when the crowd didn't need any help getting in a blood thirsty mood. The muscles in his back, shoulders, and arms were stretched taut as it was but he tried the rawhide bindings anyway. They held and he would have been amazed if they hadn't but he'd needed to try anyway. It was full dark now. Never a good time to get mixed up in anything that involved a crowd. People always acted differently once the sun had gone down. As if somehow, God couldn't see them in the dark. The chief the braves were reporting to stepped forward suddenly and the crowd hushed. His eyes drilled his prisoner and he pronounced what could only be a judgment sentence. The crowd went wild and it wasn't in any way other than demonic as the drums began to beat. The fires leaped suddenly higher as logs were carelessly tossed on them. The prisoner bowed his head and said a quick prayer. It consisted of three words. "God help me." Then he raised his face and his eyes narrowed as they focused on the surging crowd that capered around him. He may have been in worse scrapes than this, but for the life of him, he couldn't think of a single one right now. She heard the surge in commotion outside her tent and a sick feeling stole over her soul. It was so strong that she almost gagged. Darkness. She hated the feeling. As much as she hated how familiar it had become to her over these past years. Angry, she pushed aside the door flap, caught her breath and froze for a moment as her eyes told her what her heart already had. People moved like strangely played puppets with tangled strings, danced around fires piled too high with precious firewood. Their screaming, groaning calls were a mockery. Firelight danced off bared blades and bodies and everywhere she looked she saw smeared blood. A cold horror settled around her heart. Things had gotten bad before. She had never seen it this nightmarish. Not during the worst of winters. Not after the most successful war raid. Both fearful of what she'd find and with a growing rage, she pushed her way through the crowd, vicious as she knocked people aside. Father Above, she hated this. They were gone in the blood madness, some of them even bore fresh wounds, self inflicted or otherwise she didn't stop to wonder. At her passage people turned toward her in anger until they recognized the flashing green eyes. Shaman-woman. A path of silence followed her as she made her way toward the center of the crowd. Sick with what she saw, she practically threw the last person aside as she stepped into the center of the ring. Behind her she sensed the way the people she had touched slunk away toward their tents. Good! Let them feel shame. Half expecting what she'd find, she turned toward the sacrifice poles. And lost her breath. Blond? He was blond. She couldn't remember the last time she had seen blond hair. He hung by his wrists and blood poured from him into the snow and mud. Somehow, he kept his feet under him enough so that he hadn't yet dislocated his shoulders. She couldn't see his face, his head was hung, baring a neck that ran a strange protective streak through her. She saw dark, swelling bruises across his ribs and suspected broken bones. His light hair was dark with his blood but still unmistakably blond. Members of the tribe danced around him and inflicted wounds meant to cause pain without granting the relief of unconsciousness. Anger and hatred rose fire bright in her chest and she found herself running forward without a thought. How many times had she seen this? A knife glowed bright as it fell, heated by the fire. "NO!" She threw herself in the way without a thought, caught the blade's edge across her shoulder and reacted instinctively with an angry cry and a fist that caught the knife wielder in the nose, snapping his head back. "No more!" She ordered it in a voice that carried across the entire silent crowd. With a hand she touched her wound, flesh still too shocked to feel it yet. Raising her bloody hand to the crowd, she snapped: "This is what you want? Ai! Blood spilled! Well, there!" she flicked her wrist, sending shining droplets of her "sacred" blood into the crowd who scattered from its hot touch. "You have had it. Now go home!" He couldn't say how long the pain had lasted, the torture. The crowd was demonically precise in the way they flayed the skin from his body. And the women in the group were the worst. So much for the gentler sex, the part of him that was still managing to hold on to humor had thought. He locked his jaw and refused to cry out as the edge of a blade ran its way across an exposed rib. Not that he didn't think there were times when a good yell couldn't do wonders but now wasn't one of them. There was no way he was going to show weakness or egg the crowd on. Screaming would have done both. He was so far gone in the pain that it took him a long moment to realize when it stopped. He heard a voice, words he couldn't understand, realized belatedly that it was a woman's voice and not the chief's after all. And then arms closed sweetly around him, twining around his neck as a woman's soft body pressed against his battered one. It could have been the start of another form of torture but he took the relief it offered for the moment. He laid his forehead against her shoulder, inhaled the incredibly clean scent of her. God, she felt good. The chief's voice rang out in the sudden stillness and on instinct he tried to move, to place her behind him, before he remembered that his wrists were still bound. Because there was hatred in that voice. Hatred of his rescuer. She sounded more than able to stand on her own though as she snapped out a sharp answer in her clear voice. Her words continued and he heard tones of sanity and reasoning in it, authority, sensed the way the crowd moved behind him in response to her. The chief spoke again but this time it was a different voice that rose in question afterward. It didn't take long or many other carefully placed suggestions by his rescuer to have the crowd's feelings divided. As near as he could tell from the few words he did understand, it wasn't so much that anyone wanted him spared as they wanted to wait. But who or what they were waiting for he couldn't tell. The slender arms around his neck shifted, wrapped around his chest now. Her voice was in his ear, low and soft, but he heard the iron that ran through it. "You must stand. No matter the pain. When cut free, you must stand." The pain muffled the surprise he felt to hear her speaking English, no matter how oddly accented, and he nodded. Lights danced in front of his eyes and his world was quickly blurring. He hoped she didn't ask him to stand for too long. He heard a snap, and one of his arms sagged. New pain screamed up and into him but he bit it down, braced his legs as his other arm was freed. He held his balance but only just and that was only with her added support as she wrapped her arms back around him. "Come now. Walk with me." Her voice, near his ear again. He found himself smiling crookedly. In a ragged voice he murmured: "You never said anything about walking." Not that it mattered. He'd walk if he had to. Just so long as it got him to somewhere vaguely safe where he could collapse. No one protested as she led him away from the crowd and into the relative safety of her tent. They were too busy arguing. Walks Tall was only the war chief. He was not the sachem. The tribe's sachem was not here right now, gone on a hunting trip. It was the sachem's right to decide what was done with prisoners. Walks Tall did not have right to this stranger. Not yet anyway. A shiver moved through her as she thought of what life would be like for them all when Walks Tall did take that final position of power for himself. Because there was no "if" about it. "Here" she crooned softly, gentle as she lowered the stranger into the warm embrace of her sleeping robes, "safe here. Rest now." Eyes sharp with pain opened wider than, fixed on her and hands suddenly caught her by her shoulders as she leaned over him. They were big hands, strong and agile, and she knew a sudden instant of fear for what he might do in his pain. His eyes narrowed as he looked at her in the dim light and she held herself still and unthreatening. "English?" his voice was raw and she quickly covered his lips with the tips of her fingers. "Not to talk" she murmured, reaching blindly for the water skin, unable to tear her eyes from the blue fire of his. Her stomach uncoiled strangely in her, and she felt relief as her fingers finally closed around the leather of the water bag and he looked away to see what she was doing, freeing her from the trap of his eyes. A quick, deep breath served to settle her and then she untied the mouth of the skin, slipping behind him to gingerly prop him up so that he could drink from it. With a trained eye she watched the way he moved. Not many broken ribs then. No bleeding on the inside somehow. His skin hung in ribbons in some areas and the scaring would be extensive but not so very bad or disfiguring. It puzzled her, distracted her thoughts as she carefully lowered him back down, absently brushing soft hair back from his forehead before she moved to set her tea pot to boiling. This tribe was cruel. They were very good at causing both pain and damage. It was something she had not learned to live with in all the many years since she had first been brought to live among them, kidnapped because of her healing skills, her "white magic". Shaman-woman. This tribe enjoyed the torture of their captives. The stranger was badly hurt. But it should be worse. She glanced back at him, saw that he was either sleeping or unconscious. His breathing was deep and even. This was good. She did not know how long she could protect him from the will of Walks Tall. Eventually, they would come for him, willing to risk the wrath of her "guardian spirits" in order to take him away. Take him away for death and torture. She shuddered again, wrapping her arms around herself as she looked down at the sleeping man. He was handsome. Handsome beyond belief. But there was more to it than that. It was a something in his eyes, in the way he had touched her. Maybe something in his face. In her spirit she felt him, somehow a man both strong and gentle. And she had not known that a man could be both without the one overwhelming the other. The pot over the fire hissed as water bubbled over its sides and she chided herself for her distracted thoughts as she caught up a cloth and rescued it. Setting it aside she turned, started collecting her herbs and tools. She must heal him somehow and she must do it quickly. Soon enough they would start to remember that she was as white as he was and they would begin to think that he had come to rescue her. To take her back. And then they would kill him. When he woke up it was dark. He couldn't say whether it was still the same night or the next. He heard the soft sounds of movement and turned his head. The woman who had rescued him was kneeling next to him and when he moved she glanced at him, smoky eyes surprised. In the darkness he couldn't put a color to them but he knew they weren't brown. Her surprise fled as quickly as it had come and she gave him a smile that was somehow soft and bright at the same time. "Did dream?" she asked and her voice was low. There was a smoothness to its sound, to the odd inflections in her words. He gave her a smile. "Not at all." She nodded and continued replacing the bandage she had pressed against his side. "Is good." She stopped herself, paused for a moment before firmly correcting herself: "It is good. That there were no nightmares." One of her fingers touched an old scar that curled along his shoulder and her eyes moved to find his. "You have bled before." She used the Powhatan term for it. Sawwehonc. Which meant more than simply bleeding. It meant life's blood, heart's blood. He almost smacked his forehead at how long it had taken him to put everything together. "Roanoke." It hadn't been a question but if it had been he wouldn't have needed to hear her answer to know it was true. Her head snapped up at the sound and her eyes widened, dark pupil's dilating. He gave her a crooked smile. "Would have figured it out sooner but my head was a bit fogged." She turned away from him suddenly but not before he caught a glimpse of the stricken look on her face. Concerned, he sat up, locking his jaw as he ignored the pain. "Hey" he curved a hand around her slender shoulder, gently turned her toward him. Tears were in her eyes and her face was a still mask as she fought them. She looked suddenly very young. He cupped her chin with a hand, tipped her face up. "What's wrong?" Her narrow jaw locked for a moment and he watched her draw in several long, shaky breathes. Apparently, she decided not to trust her voice because she used Indian trade sign language to bluntly state: "Village dead." His eyes widened and he shook his head. "Na" he told her in Algonquin and Indian sign when his vague linguistic skills failed, "village busy with people. Belonging to Powhatan Confederacy. My ship is there now." A soft sound escaped her lips and she leaned forward, touched his cheek with long fingers, eyes liquid. "Do not lie" she begged. He gave her a half smile, taking her chilled hand in his warm one. His eyes met hers. "I'm not." A quiet, strangled sound escaped her then and she bowed her head as tears broke past her lashes and spilled down her cheeks. Gentle, he drew her into his arms. Her body shook with sobs and tears wet his skin as he held her close. She was silent as she cried but he felt the release of it. How long had she been holding back her tears? How long had she thought her tribe was dead? He hadn't heard mention of any recently kidnapped women when he had talked to Governor Dare. As a matter of fact, as far as he knew, there hadn't been anyone kidnapped since the Mohawk raid that had occurred just before Roanoke had joined with the Powhatans. And that had been almost five years ago. A sudden suspicion ran through him and he looked closely at the hair he was gently stroking back from her face. Narrowed his eyes to see it better in the fading firelight. At first glance her hair looked almost as dark as the natives around her. She must stain it with walnut. But she hadn't recently and the darkness was fading from her hair. It caught glints of red and gold from the fire. Rich brown. It reminded him of autumn. Her tears were fading and he touched her cheek. Brilliantly clear eyes raised to met his. "Fortune?" he asked softly. And then he heard her laugh, joy bubbling through the tears. It sounded like river water over pebbles. "Aye" she answered, her smile like a burst of sunlight in a dark room. "Oh, aye." And she hugged him, soft laughter still spilling from her lips like rain.
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