“You cannot stay here alone, Arrowyn. I forbid it!” William was losing his patience and Arrowyn knew it, but she would not give up.
“I have been running the farm with papa since long before he died and I will not give it up. I have been doing it alone for almost a year now and everything has been running smoothly.” Arrowyn was feeling desperate now. When she was just ten years old her mother had succumbed to an unknown illness, which had eaten away at her almost daily, and she and her father had to watch how Talulah, meaning Leaping Water, who had been from the Choctaw tribe, had slowly lost her battle and then her will to live.
Arrowyn and her father had fought on during the icy winters and the harsh dry summers and their piece of land was one of the most fruitful and productive lands just outside of Little Rock. When Arrowyn turned fourteen she was shocked when her darling father said he would be looking for a suitable husband for her. Arrowyn had made it clear she would not participate in the charade of match-making using the excuse that there would be nobody to help him with the farm. She had railed and cried and shouted. Finally, her father, Robert Wyndon Carter, had given up trying to encourage her to marry.
He, himself, had given up inheritances, family, and prestige because he had met and fallen in love with Talulah and her with him. She had been kicked out of her tribe and disowned, but she had been adamant that she loved Robert and would always love him, and she had. He had been the blond-haired blue-eyed retired military man that had saved her from drowning in a raging river when she had slipped off the bank and gone plunging into the icy waters. Her mother had sworn that it had been her ancestors who had orchestrated their meeting and their love had been immediate. Talulah had always told her daughter that she had felt complete with Robert, as though a piece of her had been missing and when they met she had found that piece and it made her whole.
Arrowyn had seen their love first hand and she loved the idea that she had come from that love. Her mother had told her how happy she had been when she found out that Arrowyn was on the way and how Robert had helped with the delivery. Their little family had been very close so when Talulah had become ill and wasted away it had almost killed Robert to watch and not be able to do anything to help the love of his life. Her mother had been twenty-seven years old when she had died. Arrowyn had helped her father build the scaffold on which to place her mother’s body. They had followed all of the Choctaw traditions as far as that was concerned. Six months later her father placed her whitened bones in a grave next to which Arrowyn placed her father a few years later. She had known he was ill, but he always put on a brave face. Then one morning he just did not get up and Arrowyn had dug his grave and wrapped his body in blankets and furs and dragged him to his grave, said a prayer and sang a traditional Choctaw song, then closed it up and placed a big stone over the grave with her parents’ names and year of each death.
Now, with them both gone, Arrowyn was staring down her uncle William Byrd, whom she had never before met and who was married to her father’s sister, her aunt. She felt as though she were fighting for her life and her right to live on her home farmland. “You cannot take me away from the only home I have ever known. The home I helped build and run and take care of. It is mine and it belongs in its entirety to me.” She shouted pointing her little finger at her chest.
“Women do not own anything, Arrowyn. That’s the law!” he shouted back at her as a manservant was carrying furniture and such from the cottage.
“I don’t care! If I worked for it, it’s mine! Just because I am not of the male variety does not make it any different.” Arrowyn’s throat was getting sore and she wanted to chase this uncle that she did not even know out of her house.
“You have to leave! The land has been sold. The new owners will be arriving any day to take ownership.” He said softly and looked at her from beneath his brows.
“Excuse me?” she asked quietly as her mouth went dry and her heartbeats lifted. “Who sold my home? When? To whom?” Arrowyn started walking slowly towards her uncle and he looked incredibly uncomfortable staring at a fifteen-year-old girl in Native American-styled trousers and a matching shirt made of deer skin and with beading and tassels along the edges. Her feet were encased in the traditional moccasins, also with beading and tassels.
“Arrowyn, please, you must understand that this is being done for your good. The money you have made from the sale of the farm, which is quite substantial I must add, will be held in trust for when you marry.” Although he thought to himself, to be honest, I don’t know who will marry you. You’re a half-breed with odd silver-white hair and an even odder eye that has a slash of silver through the brown. He had tried to sound reasonable, but there was a definite hesitation. His wife, Rebecca, who was Robert’s older sister, had demanded he bring her back to Norfolk, but she had never seen the child and Robert had never told her of Arrowyn’s strange and quite disconcerting appearance.
“Give the money back! How dare you? How could you sell my home? My mother and father are buried here out in the family plot. I could never leave them here alone. You will just hand over my money to whatever man you wish to marry me too, won’t you? Why should any of your stupid laws apply to me anyway?” Without wanting it to happen tears sprang into her dark brown eyes. She missed her parents deeply and now the idea some stranger, who is supposed to be a family member, had sold her home and her parents will be alone made her heart skip a beat and her chest squeezed tight.
“Your aunt and I are now your legal guardians and we have to do what is right for you. Selling this place and having you move to Virginia is the way forward. The law does not allow you to stay here on your own. I have traveled far to come and fetch you and we have a long return trip and I want to leave as soon as I can. Arguing with me is not going to change anything, so please pack your belongings and change into appropriate clothing now. I will wait for you outside.” He turned on his heel and stalked out of the little cabin that had been home to Arrowyn and her parents for fifteen years. He showed such a lack sympathy or empathy to her that she ought to have picked up on it, but due to her sadness and heartache, she did not and Arrowyn merely stared after him.
Seething she sat on her bed and started thinking of ways to escape from this tyrant of a man and somehow get her home back. But how, that was the hard question. How would she get the money back so that she could return it to the so-called new owners? Leaving her home didn’t seem like an option, but staying appeared impossible too. Arrowyn knew it would be difficult to explain to a full cup, who was not prepared to listen over his own pompous, big-headed self, how the land did not belong to any man, but that people belonged to the land.
The tears flowed as she packed her few belongings into the one and only bag she had. She hated her uncle and aunt and she hated having to leave her home. How could they do this to her? They didn’t even know her and she knew none of them at all. Her father had mentioned his sister on odd occasions, but they did not seem at all close. Why would they even care about her? She knew she would be shunned because she was not white and she was not Indian even though she had silver hair and fairer skin than her mother had, but still darker than the white women. Many times when she had gone into town with her father people would stare and then some would say awful things and Robert would tell her to keep her chin up because words were just that, words and their minds were still like that of an infant. Stupid child-like brains who were too absorbed in their own fantasies of right and wrong. Arrowyn did not care and she felt sorry for the people who could not see beyond their own hypocrisy. She used to smile because she knew she was more educated than most who said those terrible things and called her ugly names. Judgment, she had thought, was an awful thing when doled out by the uneducated.
Back in her little home Arrowyn stood by the door with her bag in her cold, numb hands. She looked around the only home she had ever known. Every wall, every window, and every step had a memory for her. This was torture and her heart was breaking into a thousand little pieces. Virginia was a long way away, she knew this. She was educated in reading, writing, arithmetic, astronomy, history, and geography. Her father had schooled her and bought books for her and she had loved to read to her parents in the evenings. She could speak Latin, Greek, French, and, of course, the Choctaw language fluently because her father and mother could speak those languages. Her mother could speak French, English, and her native tongue and she had learned with Arrowyn how to speak the other languages that Robert was fluent in. They would hold conversations and all three of them would speak a different language. It had become something of a game for them and she had loved it. Now she had to leave it all behind, but she swore to keep her memories. She would hold onto those as though they were a lifeline.
Arrowyn said a prayer to her mother and spoke to her father and said her goodbyes to them and begged their spirits to stay with her as she had to make this journey she was so against. Her heart was full of anger and hate she worried her parents would ignore her pleas, but she would keep praying to them to stay with her. Her mother had promised that she would never leave her and had told her every time she heard water, a river, the ocean, or the rain, Arrowyn must know that she was with her. Arrowyn had heard water every day of her life as a creek flowed just below their little home, so she was reminded daily that her mother was with her.
Standing straighter and lifting her chin, sniffing for the last time Arrowyn turned, took the Winchester and ammunition from above the door, and walked out of her home. Outside her uncle sat up on their wagon with Ripley and Sage strapped into the traces and, what she presumed to be his saddled horse, tied to the wagon gate. She looked around for Pebble, her own horse. Ignoring her uncle she walked over to the barn where she met the same black manservant pulling on the reins, dragging her darling, stubborn horse behind him. “What are you doing with my horse?” she demanded and he simply stood staring at her. Arrowyn turned and looked towards her uncle and pointed at the man and her horse. His shoulders lifted as though he took a deep breath and he nodded. “Let her have the horse, Albert.” The man handed over the reins to Arrowyn and she snatched them from him. Patting her beautiful grey horse and talking lovingly to him she tied her bag behind the saddle and then shoved the Winchester rifle into its leather pouch and the ammunition in the saddle bag, climbed up onto the saddle, and sat staring at her uncle.
“I told you to change into a dress, Arrowyn. Which is more appropriate for a young girl.” He said tightly to her with impatience in his voice and a frown on his face.
“I do not own a dress and riding a horse is more comfortable this way, especially if, as you say, it will be a long trip.” She stared at him blankly.
“As soon as we reach a town I shall remedy that and buy you a dress.” He tugged on his hat and Albert got up onto the seat beside him and lifted the reins, released the brake, and got the wagon moving.
“I won’t wear it.” Arrowyn retorted loudly enough so that he could hear her.
Turning on the seat and looking back at her he shook his head. She had a beautiful face with unblemished skin and her unusual silver-white hair was not unattractive, pulled back into a plait that reached down past her waist and tucked down the back of her shirt. Even the odd grey slash through the brown of her one eye was something of an oddity, but not unattractive. Her very thick, dark eyelashes lined her eyes naturally, but she had a hard look about her that most definitely did not come from Robert’s breeding. It could only come from her mother who had been a savage.
“Arrowyn, our time together would be so much easier if you did not fight me at every turn.” He sighed and stuck his nose in the air.
“I didn’t start this fight, uncle, you did! And you should know now that I am not one of your typical Virginia princesses. You have stared at me and studied my appearance long and hard enough and I know what you are thinking. Do you think I never went into town and heard what others said about me? Do you think I am so naïve as to not know that I am a mixed-race child? My father was no idiot, uncle, and nor was my mother and though they did not make an issue of it, they did prepare me for narrow-minded, hypocritical, tight arses like yourself. I am quite capable of taking care of myself.” She dug her heels into the flanks of her horse and rode out in front of him determined not to let him see the hurt and pain on her face or in her eyes. What she did not see was the quickly hidden smile from Albert, the manservant, or her uncle’s narrowed eye look that was not entirely angry, but more irritated.
She knew what he was thinking. She was a half-breed child who was wild and uneducated and simply had to do what she was told because there was no place in society for people like her. Well, she would keep her education to herself and she would let him learn for himself that she was no fool. She had noticed, however, that the books she had kept in a trunk at the foot of the bed were now on the back of the wagon as well as personal belongings such as her father’s personal chest with his army papers inside and his uniform. Arrowyn never rifled through that chest and chose to leave it be. A few items of furniture, blankets, and other nick knacks were in the wagon as well as the supplies she had kept in the pantry.
It was a long way to Virginia and Arrowyn had no idea of knowing how they would get there. Did her uncle want to traverse half the state by wagon or was he planning on using the railroad? Arrowyn wanted to ask, but her pride got the better of her, so she remained tight-lipped.
William watched his strange niece riding in front of the wagon with a straight back and squared shoulders and wondered what she was thinking. He understood her reluctance at leaving the only home she had ever known, but his wife had insisted he make this perilous journey to take charge of the girl and return with her to Virginia, and he dare not go against Rebecca Carter Byrd’s wishes. She, too, was a force to be reckoned with. He smiled thinking of his wife and how fortunate he was to have found a woman like her. She had agreed to marry him and be stepmother to his son, Adam, from his first marriage. Geneva had died a few hours after the birth of their son and William had been utterly devastated and worried whether he would ever find a woman who would marry him with a child. He loved his son and would not compromise on that front. When he had met Rebecca she admitted that she already knew of the child and did not find the idea of raising someone else’s child at all problematic. “In fact, I believe it will prepare me for our own.” She had told him when he had made his intentions clear and wanted to be sure that Adam would be treated with no prejudice.
In the beginning, he had found Rebecca’s stubborn strength utterly enthralling and knew that she would be able to keep house and take control of the servants without her rushing to him with all and sundry issues. He had decided to put up with, and ignore, what he considered her bossy behavior as she came with a very large dowry. William enjoyed being a gentleman of leisure just as Rebecca enjoyed being in control of nearly everything. She was able to converse on many topics and her manner was one of a lady who was not to be crossed. Rebecca cared deeply and loved with all of her heart so it had come as no surprise when she had found out about her brother Roberts’ death that she instantly wished to take charge of his only child.
William’s head suddenly jerked up and he stared at Arrowyn and realized that the letter informing them of the death must have come from someone who was educated and able to read and write.
“Arrowyn! Arrowyn!” he called to the girl and she looked back over her shoulder and raised her eyebrows.
“Do you read and write at all?” he called to her and she shrugged her shoulders and shouted back, “What do you think, uncle?”
Patting Albert on the shoulder he indicated his horse that was attached to the tailgate of the wagon and Albert nodded, slowed the horses slightly, and allowed his master to jump off the wagon quickly and climb up onto his horse.
Arrowyn glanced back and saw what her uncle was doing and let out a quiet groan. He probably wanted to get better acquainted, she thought. She glanced at Albert and saw that he was concentrating on the horses, or he appeared to be, at least. Arrowyn hated the idea of one human being owning another as though they were common property, as did her parents. They had openly discussed issues surrounding the slave trade and what slavery entailed. The poor treatment of these human beings had tugged at her heart, but then her father had told her of how well other slave owners treated their slaves, and when the slaves were allowed to be free, they had chosen to stay and rather work for an honest wage and pay their own way. It was a very complex issue, but Arrowyn had formed her views on the topic and stuck with it. She had no tolerance for the slave trade or slave owners.
Riding up closer to her William looked sideways at Arrowyn and asked, “How much schooling have you had, my girl?”
“About as much as any other person living on a working homestead.” She replied vaguely and wondered why it had taken him so long to wonder as to whom had sent the letter to Norfolk announcing the death of her father. That thought alone had made Arrowyn realize that her uncle had probably thought her uneducated. She bristled at the pompous assumption of it all.
“Well, reading and writing?” he continued prying.
“Yes, I am able to read and write.” She knew she was being vague, but did not care. He could jolly well stew in his narrow-minded presumptions of her, she thought crossly.
“Fair enough. How about sums and such?” he turned and looked over at her on her horse and she did not look at him when she answered.
“Yes, I am able to do sums.” She said and then decided to ask a question of her own, “Allons-nous rouler jusqu’en Virginie ou prendre l’oncle du chemin de fer?” and she looked at him with her head tilted to one side and watched the shocked expression on his face and he gaped at her like a fish out of water.
“My French is terribly lacking and I am ashamed to say that I haven’t a clue what you just said.” He laughed nervously as Arrowyn simply nodded her head and pursed her lips in an ‘I see’ fashion, but thought nastily, drown in your hypocritical stew you arrogant old fart.
“Erit autem omnis via equitantes in Virginiam vel viae ferreae accipiamus, erit nobis, avunculus?” she stared openly at her uncle now and got great satisfaction in seeing the shocked expression on his face. Hah, she thought happily, shove that one up your nose you shit fly!
“Dear god, girl, how many languages do you speak?” he gasped out loud as she laughed loudly and he noticed how her entire demeanor changed as she did this and how perfectly straight and white her teeth were.
“Shocked, uncle?” she asked and continued laughing. Oh, how wonderful is this, she thought, that my so-called educated Virginian uncle has been bested by an outback savage half-breed. She laughed harder at this thought that she knew was unkind, but she really did not care. She was still hurting from feeling betrayed and the guilt at leaving her parents which made it hard for her to breathe.
“I owe you an apology, my girl. I jumped to conclusions and severely underestimated Robert. Your father clearly educated you and he did a very thorough job of it too.” He smiled at her and tipped his hat.
“Not just my father, my mother educated me too. She could speak English, French, and Choctaw and she also learned to read. She taught me about their customs and traditions and how to hunt and skin a kill. My father taught me all the rest and we all learned together. You will see that by all the books in that trunk in the back of the wagon.” She said with a huge amount of pride in her voice as she indicated over her shoulder with her chin. “There is a variety of books in there like astronomy, history, geography, mathematics, and various languages and my father loved science. I didn’t like it much, but he never forced me to learn too much of it. He was extremely interested in why I had silver in my eye and why the color of my hair is so unusual.” She didn’t feel all that triumphant as boasting was not her strong suit and her uncle had already apologized, which took a great deal of her self-satisfied gloating away and made her feel quite awful for thinking horrible thoughts and behaving like a nasty brat.
“Did your father ever talk politics with you?” he asked cautiously not knowing what Robert may have instilled in his daughter.
Arrowyn took a deep breath and remembered what her father had told her about talking politics and religion. “Be careful with whom you converse on these topics, Arrowyn because not everyone holds the same views and everyone thinks their view is the correct one. Many a man has had his life cut short over these two topics.”
“I am not at all comfortable discussing my political views with you, uncle. I prefer to keep my opinions on this subject to myself for now.” And she kept her eyes ahead, not looking over at him at all.
“I must confess, Arrowyn, that I was not expecting that response from you. Women don’t usually hold an opinion on that subject.” He nodded more to himself than her when he said this.
“Not that you are aware of. Women hold views on many subjects, but men seem to think a woman’s opinion is not required or worthy of their time and attention. Women have simply been raised to believe that their opinion is not required so they keep it to themselves, but that does not mean to say they’re not versed on the subject or that they don’t have any brilliant views or ideas to share. Men are far too self-important and feel it is beneath them to bother to ask a woman these types of questions. Perhaps men will feel inferior to a woman if they actually realize she has a brain and is capable of independent thought and able to make her own decisions.” She looked over at her uncle and he looked incredibly uncomfortable as she said this.
“Ah, spoken like a true Carter!” he laughed out loud to throw shade over his utter amazement at this child riding beside him. “You sound just like my wife, your aunt Rebecca. She has opinions on just about everything and I simply cannot escape her verse on any matter. I believe the two of you will get along famously.” And he shook his head and laughed. “God help me, three women with independent minds and opinions under one roof! Anarchy, I declare it shall be!”
“Three women? You have two wives then?” Arrowyn asked a little astounded.
“What? Good heavens no! I can barely keep up with one wife, child. No, no I have a daughter, Serena, who is about your age. She looks like a lovely young lady, but she has a tongue as sharp as a sword, that one.” He said this with pride she noticed. He didn’t mind women having an opinion and he also had a daughter about her age. Not all bad news then, she thought.
“Tell me about your family then?” she enquired politely so that they could get to know one another a little better.
Looking over at her he smiled and nodded. Perhaps it would be best to do with Arrowyn what he does with Rebecca. That is, he thought, until he no longer had to.
Casting a quick glance in her direction to see if he had her full attention he cleared his throat and spoke. “I was married before I married your aunt, but my first wife, Geneva, passed after giving birth to my son, Adam. I met your aunt Rebecca when I visited her family home with your father. You see, Robert and I were good friends when we served together. Your aunt did not balk at the idea of helping me raise my son and I fell madly, deeply in love with her. Robert had told me she was a wild child and I had not taken him too seriously, but there was nothing Rebecca could not do. She rode horses, she was able to use a flintlock and rifle. She could throw knives and fight with a sword as well as any man I have ever seen. She was definitely a wild child, but she was also a lady.” Arrowyn noticed as he spoke of his wife his eyes shone and he had a silly grin on his face. It tugged at her heart because she remembered her father speaking of her mother after she had died and he had got a similar look on his face.
“After we married Robert moved away and decided he wanted to explore America and he wanted to find a place to settle that he could build up for himself. While he was away my wife had our daughter, Serena, as I’ve told you, and then she had Billy, who is named for me, William, and then after him, she had Bobby, who is named for your father, Robert. Those boys are the biggest mischief makers on this side of the continent. The shenanigans that those boys get up to are beyond comprehension, but they are such fun.” He had a smile on his face while he was obviously remembering something or other his sons had done.
Arrowyn had been keeping her eyes on the horizon and noticed the cloud formation above the mountains to the northeast in the direction they were heading, so it was directly in their path. That looks nasty, she thought. Arrowyn knew where she was and remembered a rock levee with a cave in the back above a ravine, but the wagon would not be able to get up to the top where they would be safe should there be flooding. Turning to her uncle she lifted her arm and pointed, “That does not look at all good. We will need to find a place to shelter, but the only place I know of will be too steep for the wagon to be able to reach.” Pointing slightly to her right indicating pillar-type rocks and explained about the levee with the small cave in the rear area. “We need to head there now or we could end up in a world of trouble.”
Looking over his shoulder to Albert her uncle asked, “What do you think, Albert?” and Arrowyn bristled.
“I know this land, he doesn’t. I am telling you that we need to find shelter before that gets us.” Arrowyn sounded as angry as she felt at this slight.
“The mistress is quite right, master. I do not know this land, but those clouds do not look at all good. We will need to find that shelter she speaks of.” Albert nodded and tipped his hat at Arrowyn.
Looking at Arrowyn her uncle nodded, “Lead the way then.” And Arrowyn pulled Pebble to the right and they went off the beaten track and headed towards the levee where they would be safe.
They moved as fast as they could and Arrowyn got them to the pillars and walked the horses up to the sheltered levee and then she ran back down to assist Albert with Sage and Ripley and as soon as they were loose she grabbed their reins and coaxed them up to where the other horses were safely out of harm’s way.
By now the wind was howling down the ravine and her uncle and Albert were on their way back up with more packages and their provisions and carrying a chest between them. “Did you tie the wagon to the tree just in case the rains get out of hand?” she shouted to them, but they both shook their heads and she ran back down to use the ropes to tether the wagon to a couple of trees growing where the wagon was standing.
Using the longest rope she had, Arrowyn lashed it around the two wheels nearest the trees and tied the ropes as tightly as she could. She jumped on the back of the wagon and tied the canvas down tightly over the few belongings that had to be left on the back of the wagon as the cave had limited space. Standing up and checking she felt satisfied that she had done a good enough job and jumped down. As she began heading back up to the levee with the wind pushing at her she heard the roaring howl of the wind change and another sound could be heard.
Arrowyn gasped and began to run back up the steep slope and just as she reached the shelter the clouds opened up and the rain came down. With it, a torrent of water spewed between rocks and trees forcing its way through the ravine. Arrowyn stared helplessly as she thought of the wagon and what a hopeless situation it was knowing her belongings were going to be washed away in that dirty, muddy water that had obviously built up in the mountains and now was pushing its way down. She quickly sent up a prayer for any animals or humans in the way of the muddy sludge that was oozing its way forward.
Feeling a hand on her shoulder she turned to see her uncle watching the spectacle playing out below them and the concern on his face.
“The waters will rise quite quickly, but if you look on the opposite walls of this small canyon you can see that it has not risen as high as this in a very long time.” She pointed out the lines in the rock that could just barely be seen and her uncle nodded and said, “But there is always a chance it will.”
“No, there is no chance that it will rise this high. I know it won’t because the rain is not as forceful nor has it been raining for very long. Stay positive, uncle. We should be safe here.” And she turned and walked towards her horses to keep them calm.