Alexia twisted her body, looking all around her as she cursed under her breath.
"What is it?" Lydia asked, grabbing her shift.
"I don't know. Something-" the redhead jumped to her feet and grabbed her musket. The ex soldier spun and aimed the rifle towards the moving shadow.
Lydia had never seen this side of her friend. The woman held the weapon steady, her entire body alert. Holding her shift to her breast, the seamstress tried to see what Alexia was aiming at. All she saw were shadows in the dense trees and bushes. Perhaps it had been just an animal foraging there. Then she saw a movement. A figure stepped out from the shadows and stood there silently. The seamstress fought down the scream that wanted to come out of her as the terror from her childhood emerged.
A native stood there, dressed in traditional clothing. This wasn't one of the prayer Indians, who had converted to Christ. He wore nothing more than a skin cloth about his waist and matching shoes. Beads hung around his neck and he carried an unnotched bow and quiver. He studied both of them for a moment and took a step closer.
"I think that is quite far enough my friend." The native stopped and remained still. At least he understood English, the redhead thought. "Now, would ye like to explain why ye were spying upon us?"
The former soldier saw the native's lips quirk with amusement and his dark eyes making a point of looking at her from head to toe. Alexia felt a blush burning her cheeks. She had forgotten she was naked. Well, it was too late for modesty. She couldn't hold a musket and dress at the same time. She could hear Lydia slipping into her clothing behind her.
"A damned peeping Tom. I ought to-"
"My name is Waschteka, not Tom." The man said mildly. "I was not spying. I hunt."
"I didn't know there were natives this close to Boston," Alexia said, wondering where he had come from.
"We travel each spring to the ocean, to the shores that are ours by right," he informed her.
"Where are the rest of yer people?" Alexia asked loudly.
The man pointed with his chin. Both women looked past him and saw several people kneeling behind the bushes. Most of them were children. The man motioned them to come closer. The younger children were as naked as Alexia. One older girl and a woman were dressed in animal skin dresses and leggings. One boy looked up at them bashfully, charming them with his shy smile. The former soldier lowered her weapon and donned her shirt and britches.
"Our people are there," the man said, pointing over the tree-lined hill. "We did not know this place was in use. We will travel further to rest." Waschteka said apologetically.
"There is no need to move yer people Wash..Washtok, er—what was yer name again?"
"Waschteka," he said carefully so she'd understand.
"Waschteka, we do not own this land. The owners are far away and would'na care if ye stayed here a day or two." She reassured him. The man let out his breath, relieved.
Lydia watched as the shy boy walked up to them. He seemed curious about their clothing, watching as they dressed. Waschteka also watched them, then realized one of the women was putting on men's clothing.
"You are female, yet you dress as a man. Why is this?" he asked.
"It is a long and sad tale friend. But please, it is one that cannot be told to the English. It is a secret." Alexia explained, hoping the Indian understood and would remain silent about his adventure with two naked Colonists.
The Indian smiled widely. "But we would love to hear this tale. Come to our camp. We will share our food and tell our stories," he invited them.
The women exchanged glances. Alexia thought Lydia looked pale and hadn't said a word since Waschteka stepped out of the shadows. She had spent her entire childhood hearing how badly her mother had been treated by one of the natives. Now she was standing within a few feet of those like him. Lydia had to be terrified. Alexia rubbed her back gently, giving her silent support. Perhaps this would be a good thing. They seemed nice enough and perhaps given the chance, Lydia would realize her heritage wasn't a curse. She just needed some good experiences to balance out the bad.
"We can join you for a short time. We must return to our home before dark." Their new acquaintance smiled and spoke his native language to the children, who cheered happily. They took their hands and led them along the way.
Food and drink was passed around. They settled comfortably onto their blanket and were promptly joined by several children. One girl about three years of age crawled up onto Alexia's lap. Many smiled, knowing children were usually good judges of people. They were eager to hear their story. Waschteka volunteered to translate their words since many didn't not speak English, or too little to understand much. Alexia cleared her throat.
"My name is Alexia and my companion is Lydia. I come from a land far across the ocean called Scotland. For many years, my people were ruled by men from another land. We did not like this." Alexia paused, allowing the man to translate. Several heads nodded, understanding the concept. When many of their people died from foreign sickness, their numbers grew so few that they had been forced to pay tribute to others.
"One day, the worst of these men came to our home and killed my family. They had beaten me badly, leaving me for dead, and burned our home. I was alone. I traveled westward, hoping to find my mother's people but found no one.
"I met a friend who was like me, alone and without family. We traveled together. We decided to join a group of people who had chosen a new leader for Scotland. But I was a woman, and not allowed to fight. So I dressed as a man and they dinna know.
"Those who had ruled over us dinna like our choosing our own leader, and sent soldiers to fight against us. Many died and I was one of many that were captured. I couldna tell them I was a woman, so I remained silent. Those of us taken captive were sent away and sold as slaves. I was brought to these lands." The Wampanoags sat there, enraptured by her story.
"My owner was a good man, with a kind wife. He wanted me happy, so he suggested my taking Lydia," she pointed to her spouse with a grin, "as my wife. They dinna know I was a woman, but I couldna tell them. Lydia knew it but still said yes, not wanting me to be alone anymore. We became family and were set free. No one knows among our people. If they knew, we would be taken away from one another." She explained simply, taking Lydia's hand. Waschteka could see the love between them. Their bond was strong.
There was much rumbling among the natives as they spoke to each other. Alexia didn't know that her story, although it would be considered bizarre to Europeans, was one familiar to the Wampanoag. Slaves were often captive enemies taken during raids and such, but unlike the slavery among the whites, the American natives were known to adopt their slaves. They made them members of their families and tribe. The former slaves would marry and live among them even if the opportunity to leave came along.
Waschteka thought it strange that the Englishmen did not allow their women to fight if they wished it. Few did, but if a woman could withstand the rigors, she was not denied if custom permitted it. There were many stories of women warriors among the Eastern peoples. His own people, the Wampanoag, even occasionally had a woman sachem, a leader, who inherited their position from their fathers. Alexia and her unusual life seemed closer to themselves than the other Englishmen, whom the People didn't always understand.
After several minutes, Waschteka spoke for them. "We will not speak of your tale Alexia. None has a heart so empty that we would want your family torn apart."
Alexia held the reins with one hand and used her other one to hold Lydia close as they traveled down the road. The smaller woman leaned against her larger frame, seeking comfort. Neither of them had spoken.
"Are ye angry wi' me Lydia? For staying to speak with them?"
Her spouse shook her head but didn't say anything. She looked too exhausted.
"They seemed like friendly people," the ex-soldier said softly, almost as though she was thinking aloud. "Too bad we couldn't go around dressed like they do. It would certainly be much cooler. But could ye imagine me and my pale skin blistering in the sun?"
The redhead snuck a glance at her companion. Lydia almost smiled. "That's one thing I hae always envied about ye, never needing to worrying about the sun. Ye got yer lovely skin from them."
The smaller woman looked startled. "You like my darker skin?" Alexia nodded. "I was always ashamed of it because it made me look different. I didn't want to be different," she said tearfully.
"Every child feels that way sweet Lydia. But ye ken, I believe the good Lord wanted us all to be different. He likes variety otherwise we'd all be exactly alike, and I think He did a wondrous thing when He created ye Lydia Browne."
"Master Douglas, do you know much about the place you suggested my wife and I have our picnic?"
"Oh, I know a little. What is it you need to know?" he asked, hiding a grin. He had a plan in the back of his mind. He didn't really want Alex relocating once his apprenticeship was over. Phineas was realistic, knowing his arthritis would force him to retire in less than ten years. Young Alex just needed a reason to stay in the area. He had gotten the idea yesterday when Alex had asked about a nice place to take his wife for a picnic.
The unused Clark place seemed ideal. Phineas knew it would sell cheaply since the land had not been cleared. It would be suitable for the young couple. It wasn't too far from town yet it was private and had good water. A little work and it would be quite livable.
"I was wondering who was the agent for the land. Ye did say it was for sale," he reminded Master Douglas.
"Tis so. Are you interested in it?" he asked, trying to keep his hopes in check.
"Aye, it is a beautiful place. It reminded me of home."
Phineas grunted. "Well Mr. Browne, why don't you go over to Samuel Moody's office and inquire about it." Alex quickly removed her apron, eager to leave. "A piece of advice Mr. Browne. Don't appear too eager. Remind him the land isn't cleared. Point out all the flaws and dicker over the price. He is a sharp man, and will fleece you for every shilling he can."
"Thank ye Master Douglas, I will do as ye say."
Alexia ran up the stairs to find her wife. "Lydia! Lydia!" he saw her sewing in the corner. "Look! I bought it!" she shouted excitedly, waving the deed. It had taken most her inheritance to buy it, but it was worth it. Lydia hugged her tightly.
"That is wonderful Alexia! I just wish we could live there." She said wistfully.
"Well, we could, at least part of the year. I would'na want to during the winter while I'm an apprentice but we could for the summers. It would be cooler and we wouldn't have to live with the stench of the town during the hot months. Master Douglas has agreed that I could arrive a bit late and leave a little earlier so I didn't have to travel in the dark. I'll buy a few horses and a wee carriage. You could come into town wi' me on the days of your sewing circle. I know ye would miss them."
She looked a bit fearful. "Do you think it would be safe for me alone out there Alexia?"
"Aye, I think so. I was thinking of getting us a large dog. He would protect ye and warn ye if anyone was near. And I will teach ye to shoot."
"When can we move? Could we start tomorrow?"
"Nay, the cabin needs work. I canna work on it on the Sabbath, so I need to find someone to make repairs in my stead during the week. And I'm sure ye will wish to make new curtains and such." Alexia sighed. "We'll need furniture for the place as well."
"We have my sewing money and inheritance Alexia, we can do this."
"Are ye certain ye wish to spend it?"
"Yes, the money is for both of us dearling. I will speak to my friends. I'm sure they can tell me the best places to buy household goods. Why don't you let me make all the arrangements? Master Douglas has been generous with his time, but we can't continue taking advantage of his good will. We'll go to the cabin on Sunday after services and make a list of what we need."
"That is a good plan my heart."
They got there in the late morning, bringing another picnic dinner with them. They wanted to spend every moment they could at their new home. Alexia unhitched the horse and tied him near the pond, allowing him to eat and drink.
Lydia took her hand, her eyes dancing with excitement. She wanted them to both enter the small cabin together. The redhead lifted the wooden door latch and pushed it open. Cobwebs and dust swayed as the breeze from outdoors disturbed them. The building had been uninhabited for several years. Wanting to get a better view of the interior, they opened the shutters. There were no windows of course. The previous owners couldn't afford them.
Amazingly, no one had been in the cabin since the funeral. Most of the former owner's possessions remained. The furniture was dirty but seemed sturdy. The mattress would have to be replaced for mice had built a nest inside of it. They dragged it outside and would burn it later.
"A cat, definitely a cat," Lydia muttered.
They went back inside and began poking around. The cabin contained a cabinet with dishes and utensils, crocked foods, which Alexia foolishly opened one jar and the stink of the rotting food nearly made her ill. There was a trunk containing books, a chest of drawers with male clothing, tools for farming, and iron tools for the fireplace.
Other than a lot of cleaning, and stocking of fresh foods, it needed little in furnishings. The walls were well mortared and after inspecting the roof, it seemed watertight. Apparently, the former owner had spent more time building his cabin than tilling the soil.
"Hello! Alexia and Lydia! Hello!" A voice from outside hollered. It had to be Waschteka, for only the natives knew Alexia's true name. Surprised the Wampanoags were still there, they stepped outside.
The slim Indian stepped forward, a smile on his face. "It is good to see you again friends. We did not expect to meet again."
"We thought the same. We assumed ye would have continued yer journey by now," Alexia ventured.
The native nodded in agreement. "One of the children found a..." he searched for the word, "It is a metal thing your people use, to capture bears—big sharp points, a chain on it."
"A bear trap? God almighty! Is the child alright?" Lydia asked worriedly.
Waschteka nodded sadly. "The boy lost two fingers but is better. He had a fever for several days. You said the owners would not mind our people camping for a short time so we remained here."
"No need to worry about the owners Waschteka. A few days ago, Lydia and I bought this land. It is now ours. Yer people may stay as long as they need to."
The man smiled. "It is good that you have a place to belong. I thank you for your kind heart.
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