“Adopt them? Leave our home? I thought Inshapae had a mother. The woman who brought him food yesterday. And why move away and live with them?”
“Lydia, there isn’t any other options that I can think of. Och, I even considered resuming my life as a woman, but what then? We will still need to leave Boston. We would be like two spinsters living together. Do ye wish to remarry? “
“No! I am your wife! How could you ask such a question?”
“What would people think if two women moved into their community and refused prospective husbands? I’ll tell ye what they’d think, that the women were either of loose morals or something worse. Lydia, what job skills do I hae as a woman? None. I could perhaps wash clothing or become a servant in someone’s home. Do ye want to live that way again?”
Lydia shook her head. Alexia took her hands in her own. “Sweetheart, I want ye to think about this. I want to leave before my secret is out, and I doubt we’ll hae many more months before it does.”
Alexia stood and scooped put stew from the pot onto a plate but she merely toyed with it, her appetite gone. They crawled into bed and snuggled close. They got little sleep that night.
Lydia spoke to Inshapae the next day, along with her grandmother. She asked the boy if he was truly an orphan with no one to care for him. The boy nodded and explained about the woman who fed him the other day. She was a distant cousin. She had wished to take them in but her husband had refused because they already had four children of their own and he could barely provide for them.
As the only person available to translate, Lydia had no choice but to use the young man in order to speak with Wepaesee.
“My spouse has expressed a desire to live with your people grandmother.” The seamstress had no idea what the woman thought, her face expressionless.
“And you child, what do you wish?”
“I don’t know. I’ve come to love you all, but we have made a home here.” She sighed, trying to explain it well. “Alexia cannot pass as a young man much longer. Her voice doesn’t deepen, no beard grows on her cheeks. Soon, others will realize something is wrong and discover her secret. If that happens, we shudder to think what they might do to us. At the very least, we will be separated.
“She doesn’t want to move away and live as a woman again. She has much more freedom as a man.” Lydia rubbed her face with her palms. “What really upsets me is that we just settle in and she wants to move again. I want to be with her but it means never staying in one place for long. I feel so confused,” she confessed.
“That, my granddaughter, is because you do not follow your Wampanoag heart. You place value on things and places, rather than on those who live in your heart. Our people move with the seasons, following the Great Spirits’ bounty. My child, what has brought you more happiness? Your mate or possessions?”
“Alexia,” Lydia whispered.
“Then follow your true heart child. All that is important is the circle of love and friendships that surround you, the rest is trivial.”
Lydia relaxed, knowing at gut level her grandmother was right. She had just needed to see it. But there was still one other matter. “Alexia expressed a wish to adopt Inshapae and his brother,” she said.
The boy didn’t translate, his eyes were wide in wonder. “She wishes me to be part of your family?” he asked. Lydia smiled and nodded. He sat there stunned until Wepaesee nudged him. He shakily passed on her words.
“So, my granddaughter found herself a mate who already has the heart of the People.” I like her better each day.” The older woman saw the exhaustion on her young face. “Why don’t you return to your dwelling, you are tired,” she suggested. Lydia stood and wished her grandmother a pleasant morning, heading back to the cabin.
Inshapae couldn’t sit still, his excitement too much to bear. Lydia was asleep and the boy wouldn’t borrow her horse without permission, so he began running, heading towards the English settlement. The miles flew by steadily, his feet as swift and his heart light.
Once into town, he didn’t see the Colonialists stare at the running Indian boy, his focus was only for the Glazier shop just a few seconds away. The door latch was barely a minor setback. He flung open the door and rushed towards the large warrior woman.
Alexia spun around at the violently opened door and spotted Inshapae. His eyes were bright and his smile stretching his face shyly. She didn’t need to be told that Lydia had spilled the beans. Returning his radiant smile, she held open her arms. The boy flew into them, wrapping his lanky arms tightly about her waist, his face buried into her chest. He trembled as she held him, more boy than man as his emotions overwhelmed him. He had found place to belong.
Alexia rubbed his back, pleased the boy accepted her as a parent. Indulgently, she allowed him to cling for quite a while.
Phineas stepped into the shop and spotted the two of them embracing. “What have we here? Inshapae? Is something the matter?”
Boy and woman chuckled.
“Nay,” Alexia answered for them. “Nothing is wrong. It seems Lydia spoiled my surprise,” she said softly, no anger evident in her tone. “Master Douglas, meet our new son, Inshapae,” she grinned, ruffling his long dark stripe of hair.
“Well bless my buttons! He’s the biggest baby I’ve ever seen, but I guess you’ll keep him anyway. Congratulations to all of you,” Phineas said kindly, pleased for them. The three of them laughed, releasing the emotions that threatened their stoic manhood.
“I think this calls for a celebration. Is your wife here?” The Glazier asked, looking around.
“Nay, she was tired and went back to bed. I ran here,” the boy informed them.
“Well, perhaps we could have a tiny drop of ale at the tavern, just the three of us. I’ll close the shop. What do you say Mr. Browne?”
“Sounds fine to me. But lets keep this young scallywag away from the brew and give him cider instead. He’s happy enough wi’ out it.”
The tavern had a fine Scottish whiskey in stock. Alexia sipped the dark amber liquid, savoring the mellow flavoring gotten from being aged in oak barrels. The tavern keeper’s wife was a bonnie thing, fussing over the boy as she served them their dinner. She didn’t even fuss at Inshapae’s lack of clothing. All he had worn into town was his loincloth and moccasins.
Alexia had ordered the boy food he could eat with his fingers, knowing from experience that they didn’t use utensils to eat, although Inshapae had tried them before and thought them silly. The two adults ordered bread trenchers of lamb stew and currant pudding.
Watching the men finish off their meal by eating their ‘bowls’, the boy could only wonder what other oddities the English practiced. Done with his meal, he looked about the two story building more closely. The tavern seemed to be a gathering place of sorts. Many people chatted, both men and women. Some looked at him curiously, a few were less than friendly about it. Especially the one Alexia had called Ruth. She was standing on the upper floor that overlooked the larger dining area, her eyes full of hatred. Phineas noticed him staring up and followed his gaze.
“Why does that woman always look as though she suckled vinegar instead of milk as a baby?”
The former soldier choked on her whiskey. She grabbed a linen napkin and mopped up the splattered drink and the front of her waistcoat. “Master Douglas, are ye trying to kill me with yer humor?”
“No, but am I wrong about her? She never smiles. Neither does her husband. Both did the world a favor by marrying. Now only two souls are miserable instead of four.”
Alexia burst out laughing. “Blessed Mary, save me from this man! Let us be on our way Master Douglas, before the she devil comes down the stairs and ruins a perfectly happy occasion,” she suggested.
Lydia moaned as her lover stroked her buttocks under the bath water. She sat astride Alexia’s strong thighs as the redhead teased her breasts. Gasping as teeth gently raked her nipple, she tugged on the damp red hair and begged her spouse to take her to bed before ravishing her.
Alexia laughed and managed to stand up with her small wife in her arms. She stepped out of the tub and grabbed a blanket from the stool and tossed it sloppily onto the dining table.
“I’d rather have ye as supper since we keep forgetting to eat,” she growled, setting her wife onto the sturdy table. Lydia didn’t get a chance to protest as her tall lover pressed her backwards and began nuzzling her stomach. Large hands lifted her thighs and pushed them apart. Knowing others were still awake over the hill, the seamstress forced herself not to cry out as warm lips traveled along her body. Sometimes relatives could be a burden, she thought just before her world exploded.
The figure walked quietly towards the dark cabin. The path was lit only by the moon above, but it was enough. A bucket was placed on the ground carefully. Looking around, the intruder made sure no one was awake and took the handled brush from inside the wooden bucket. Black pitch was quietly painted around the doorframe. Satisfied, the person removed a flint striker and set the door on fire.
Alexia felt something burning her nostrils and woke from a sound sleep. She was wrapped around her wife, who was sleeping deeply. It took several seconds to realize something was terribly wrong. Bright flames from the door nearly blinded her dark adjusted eyes. Panic forced her fully awake and she shook Lydia frantically.
“Lydia! Wake up! The cabin is on fire!” she shouted. Alexia grabbed her breeches and shirt, donning them quickly even as she tossed her wife her clothing. “We’ve got to get out of here!” the redhead shouted, wondering how they’d even make it out. The windows were too small to escape through.
The flames were huge on the one side of the cabin, and engulfed the only doorway out. Looking around, she spotted the farming equipment that stood in the corner. Grabbing an axe, she wondered if she could chop open a window wide enough in the sturdily built walls. Pushing aside the doubt, she began hacking away at the window furthest from the fire, her powerful muscles fueled by adrenaline. She could hear Lydia behind her, choking on the black smoke.
“Lydia! Grab the quilt and soak it in the tub! It’s still full of water. Cover yerself up!”
“What about you?” she cried.
“Just do it!” she screamed, her hands still swinging the large axe. The window was starting to split where she struck it. Dust from the breaking clayish mud made the already sooty air worse. Tears ran from her eyes but she kept swinging, praying it wasn’t too late.
Lydia wrapped the wet covering around her and grabbed a kettle. Maybe she could hold back the flames with the bath water. She began pitching water at the closest part of the fire. It did little if anything to hold back the flames, but it was better than just standing there helpless. She screamed and hopped backwards when a log from the wall came tumbling down, shooting flaming ashes throughout the room. She tipped over the tub and poured what little remained on the floor. Both women were coughing, the air growing to foul to breathe. They had little time left.
A large fissure formed and crackled loudly. Encouraged, the redhead pounded the axe head harder into the wood and tried prying it apart. Her heart was beating so hard that she didn’t realize at first that someone was battering the wall from the other side. The wall spilt and parted as a log was forced through. She tossed the axe aside and grabbed her wife, lifting her up into the opening first. The hole was small. She’d have a hard time fitting through it.
Part of the roof caved in. Hot coals stung her skin. She could hear Lydia screaming for her on the other side. Slipping one leg through, Alexia felt hands grabbing her and pulling. Something burst inside the cabin and a heavy object struck her side. The tall woman screamed from the pain just as she was pulled outside, wood scraping her skin. Free of the wall, she fell to the ground even as it starting crumbling in fiery pieces. Hands helped her to her feet and she was half dragged, half carried away from the collapsing cabin. They were safe. With that thought, she passed out.
Alexia needed a healer and quickly. Lydia wouldn’t send for the town’s doctor, terrified that he’d reveal their secret. Understanding this, one of the men was sent on a horse to the nearest Wampanoag village. In the meantime, they’d do what they could.
They removed the large splinters from her body and cleaned her burns with cool well water. Her wounds were bound and willow bark tea was forced down her throat. A large bruise swelled her ribs. They feared they were broken for her breathing was labored.
Lydia remained at her side, leaving only to answer the call of nature. Other than mild burns on her feet and some coughing, she was fine.
Inshapae would go inside and sit with her, equally worried for his adoptive parent. How could something like this happen? He heard some of the elders speaking. The fire had to be set on purpose, for the flames could not come from a cold fireplace. Anger burned within his heart. If he found out who did this, he would seek vengeance. It was within his rights.
He heard a commotion outside the hastily built wetu. Lydia seemed uninterested. He left her side and went outdoors. Phineas Douglas was there, upset by the burnt ruins he saw.
“Lad! What has happened? Where are Alex and Lydia?” he asked fearfully.
Wepaesee joined him and told him to bring the Englishman with him. They would speak privately. She headed for the clearing near the crops.
Phineas didn’t see his apprentice or his wife and his heart was racing with imagined despair. Had they died in the fire?
Lydia’s grandmother motioned him to sit on a log and she joined him. Inshapae remained standing.
“You are a friend to my granddaughter and her mate?” she asked, wanting to see his answer in his eyes. He nodded and asked where they were and what happened. She held out her hand, ignoring his concerned questions for now.
“Someone does not feel kindly towards them Mr. Douglas. They are in great danger and it is not from my people, but yours.”
“I don’t understand, tell me what is happening!” he pleaded.
“I first want something from you Mr. Douglas. A promise.”
“Anything, just tell me what has happened,” he begged tearfully.
“What you learn this day must never be revealed. Do you promise upon your God?”
“Someone burned their cabin last night. They barely got out before it was destroyed.” She hesitated before continuing. “My granddaughter’s mate was seriously hurt and may not survive,” she said with tears threatening to overcome her.
“Where is he? I want to see him,” Phineas demanded, standing up.
“What? What are you talking about?”
“Alex is a woman Mr. Douglas. There is no possibility you could see her and not discover this.”
Wepaesee was prepared to order his death if his eyes said he would not keep his word or if he condemned her newly found family.
Phineas sat with a weak thud. “A woman? I…I’ll be damned. A woman!” he repeated.
“Do you wish to see her?”
“Yes, I do,” he said, still reeling from the shock. She asked him to wait a few moments while she spoke with Lydia. Inshapae would escort him.
She entered the wetu and placed her hand softly on Lydia’s shoulder. “Mr. Douglas wants to see her. He knows, I told him.”
Her granddaughter took a deep breath and nodded her head. She slowly got to her feet, her limbs stiff from the long hours sitting on the matted floor. She picked up a skin and covered her wife’s body. Inshapae called softly, asking if they could enter. Wepaesee gave her permission and they stooped, entering the wetu.
Phineas’ eyes bounced between each of them, trying to decide whom to approach first. Alex…Alexia was not awake, so he stepped closer to his apprentice’s wife.
“Lydia, are you alright? When Alex didn’t show up for work this morning, I grew worried. I came out here to make sure you were both well.” He sighed, sorry that his worries were well founded.
“I’m fine, but Alexia…” she burst into tears. The aging glazier felt his own eyes water in sympathy. He pulled her closer and hugged her awkwardly. She gripped his coat and wept for several minutes as he patted her back. He was unsure what to do with an upset woman. He looked towards the older woman and she smiled weakly, taking Lydia’s hand and guiding her to the bench on the other side of the wetu.
Looking carefully for the first time at Alexia, Phineas wondered how he was fooled all this time. Long red-gold lashes fanned her cheeks, full lips were slightly parted, and the labored rise of generous breasts under the skin made it apparent she was female. Thinking back, it must have been the tale of how he…she got the scar that made it so convincing. He wondered how she really got it. No woman would join and fight in an army!
“What is wrong with her? Has anyone sent for a doctor yet?”
Lydia shook her head. “Mr. Douglas, you and I both know Doctor Steuvart would not keep this a secret. We’ve sent for a healer from one of the Wampanoag villages. Grandmother reassures me they are quite skilled.”
“Do us a service Mr. Douglas, return to Boston and don’t say a word. If anyone asks, tell them you gave him time off to visit with my family yesterday. The only person who knows about the fire is the person or persons who set it. One of the men found a bucket outside the ruins. It was coated with pine pitch. Once they realized they failed, they may try again.”
“You will let me know if there’s any changes?”
“Yes, and thank you.” She leaned forward and kissed his scruffy cheek. He blushed and said his goodbyes.
The Glazier was Ruth enter the dry goods store so her closed his shop and strolled over there. He’d buy some trivial item as an excuse. The only person who had motive was the she devil as far as he knew. He entered the shop and headed in the opposite direction of the woman.
He looked over the assortment of handmade candles, listening to her footsteps as she neared him.
“Hello Mr. Douglas, how are you this fine morning?” she asked cheerfully.
“”I’m quite good Mrs. Matherson. And you?”
“Equally good. I went by your shop earlier but neither you nor Mr. Browne was there and the building locked,” she subtly asked.
“I gave him several days off to visit his wife’s family before they left. Since I didn’t have any orders for today, I visited one of my suppliers this morning. I’m sorry you were inconvenienced Mrs. Matherson.” He said dryly.
“Oh, it was alright. I was just curious to see if anything new was available. Well, perhaps later Mr. Douglas.” She patted his forearm with her hand. He spotted several specks of something black on her skin. He spun around, barely able to control the violence that threatened to erupt from him. He knew with little doubt she was the arsonist.
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