A Story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke
Hugh Tayler sat on the ground, used a short stick to scratch a crude image of a person in the sand. The figure wore a dress. He tried to keep his eyes on his work, but every few seconds his gaze drifted back to a petite young woman who sat ten yards away in the fog that enveloped him and the other forty or so people, many of them soldiers, waiting uneasily on the narrow shore. The girl listened intently to her father, Thomas Colman, and his friend, George Howe. Howe’s son, also George, a young man of seventeen, sat with them, staring at Tayler’s girl with admiring brown eyes, oblivious to the presence of other souls on the shore.
Tayler was more discreet than the lad, but even a blind man could see God’s finest work in Emily Colman’s face and, with little imagination, in what lay concealed beneath her bulky red skirt and blue shirt. And when she occasionally glanced at him and smiled, his brain flushed, sent a warm glow sweeping through his body like a hot summer wind. No woman in England—and there had been many—had affected him that way, and he had no idea how to react. What was it that aroused him? Maybe the stunning visage of her blue eyes, long dark hair, full lips, rosy complexion, and beguiling smile; or perhaps the subtle, sensuous bounce of her step; or the way her every movement celebrated life. Probably the entire persona, he decided, but whatever it was, all of it accented her piercing eyes—eyes that at once melted his confidence, seemed to read his soul. He’d noticed she had the same effect on others, especially young Howe, who couldn’t take his eyes off her, and yes; whatever it was, it made women envious and men want to do what men do.
He glanced at Emily again, wished young Howe, who was two years too young for her, would look elsewhere. Tayler had spoken with her several times on the ship from England, but never for long, and never in a manner that could develop the relationship he envisioned for the two of them. Her father had always been present, so he’d kept things on a formal level, which frustrated him immensely though her father believed him to be a man of means and substance, which would work in his favor in time. With 119 passengers, ship’s crew, small herds of goats and pigs, and a few chickens, milling around the deck or crammed into the hold, it was difficult to have a real conversation with anyone. The damned goats—Lord, how he hated their smell—reminded him of his unhappy youth. Even pigs were better, and if the goats all fell overboard or died quickly at the colony, he’d be a happy man. One day when no one was watching, he’d come close to throwing one overboard to feed the sharks that always trailed the vessel, but at the last second had thought better of it.
He thought the fog had a spooky, foreboding feel to it, like the moors in southern England. He’d learned about those moors as a youth when he and a friend had wandered into their sinister grasp. Terrified of the evil he felt around him, he’d panicked; abandoned the younger lad; run blindly, aimlessly, erratically; saved himself. At the lad’s funeral, he’d lied to the parents, telling them he’d searched for their son for hours. Though he’d detested his actions, his cowardice had stuck with him like dried sap on a hairy arm ever since; but with the exception of a few people in England who only suspected the truth, it was his secret. Now, as he observed the uneasy eyes of those around him, most staring fearfully at the west side of the clearing where a murky, ghostlike wall of trees marked the edge of the decidedly intimidating forest, he realized he was not alone in his assessment of the fog. And the few who dared speak whispered so softly he couldn’t hear them, though seated but a few feet away.
As Tayler ventured yet another glance at Emily, the sound of snapping branches ripped through the breathless fog like a musket shot, sent hands reaching for weapons, people to their feet; they huddled close together, faced the sound. As eerie as an apparition, four soldiers lunged from the mist, wearing ridged metal helmets and chest armor, swords at their sides, and muskets held diagonally across their chests. After halting and bending over to catch their breath, they stepped to an anxious but dignified-looking man with slightly gray, shoulder-length hair and a short, pointed beard. He wore a white, collared shirt and a tight-fitting gray jacket that constrained his modest paunch and matched his blousy pants, which covered the territory between his waist and thighs. Tall leather boots rose above his knees, and his left hand held a round-brimmed hat with a tall, circular crown. With an air of importance, he glanced around the group of colonists, then walked deeper into the fog to the edge of the forest, stopped, faced the four soldiers who’d followed him. Though barely visible to the people who watched from the clearing, he beckoned to a dark-skinned man, with black, shoulder-length hair, sitting with the civilians. “Manteo.” Manteo had the brown skin, dark eyes, and high cheekbones of a Savage but wore English clothing, which he meticulously brushed off as he rose, approached the important man, who immediately turned to one of the soldiers, whispered, “Pray tell, Lieutenant Waters, what did you find? Were they there?”
Waters, a handsome, green-eyed, astute-looking young man with a sturdy build and fair hair hesitated, looked dubiously at his men, then spoke haltingly between rapid breaths. “Nay, Governor White . . .
. . . He heard a curt buzzing sound pass his ear like a locust flying by, heard it again, but this time felt a sharp sting and a hard, forward kick in the back of his thigh, then searing pain like a severe cramp. He reached his hand behind the leg, felt the arrow shaft sticking out, the warm blood running down the back of his leg. “My God, I’m shot.” He started to turn; another arrow ripped into his lower back, sliced through his stomach and four inches out the front of his belly. “Ooohh!” He looked down at the bloody arrow point, saw warm blood and stomach fluids soaking his shirt; staggered to the right; another arrow ripped through his left bicep, lodged in the ribs, pinning the arm to his side. He turned toward the shore and stumbled two steps forward, wondered why the soldiers weren’t there. Another arrow hit his left shoulder, stuck in the bone with awful pain.
He cried out, but the sound vanished in his throat; he fell to his knees, looked down at the water, thought how distorted and pale his reflection was; started crawling toward the shore, wondered if he was dying. A fifth arrow cut into the top of his right shoulder just inside the collar bone, tore deep into his chest behind the front ribs. He gasped for air, none came; felt himself weakening, growing dizzy, disoriented; thought how much he loved his son, begged God to care for him; wondered what the gurgling noise was, who the people approaching him were, prayed they were soldiers. An icy chill shuddered through his torso as an arrow tore through his throat. He felt himself being dragged through the water, then onto the shore; felt a strange darkness envelope him; heard someone moan as he felt himself dumped on the ground, rolled onto his back; felt the numb thunk of more arrows piercing his stomach, couldn’t breathe. Complete darkness enshrouded him, but it quickly yielded to a strange white light. He watched it grow brighter and brighter, felt himself drifting toward it, his pain gone, a light, airy feeling flooding his senses; saw his wife in the light, her arms open to embrace him. And as the Panther’s stone war club smashed into the left the side of his head, imploding his skull and splattering his brains and blood onto the sand, he embraced her, held her to his breast, felt the light’s glowing warmth surround him.
Another Savage crushed the back of the head, delivered another blow and another until the head was but a pile of red goo. The three Savages then shot one arrow apiece into his genitals, dragged him into the brush, and slipped away into the forest.
Two hundred miles to the northwest of the colonists, four Savages untied their travois from their waists, set about gathering firewood for the approaching night. One pulled a stick the length of his forearm from a deer-hide bag, then a flat chip of wood half the length of the stick and the width of a man’s hand. Next he removed a flat rock with a hole in it as wide as the fire stick diameter, then some tinder, which he laid around and inside a notch in the chip, adjacent to a hole that was also the diameter of the stick. Last came a short, bow-shaped stick with a loose piece of sinew attached to the ends. He looped the sinew around the fire stick and fitted the bottom into the friction hole in the chip, the top into the hole in the rock. He pressed heavily on the rock with his left hand while rapidly rotating the stick back and forth with his right hand until the friction generated smoke, then a glowing ember in the hole. He quickly laid the tinder on the ember, blew gently until it flamed, and placed it on the ground, adding several twigs, then some larger sticks, but not enough to generate a smoke column that might be seen by an enemy. Though their campsite was in a rocky, wooded, mountainous area that offered excellent concealment, they listened carefully and remained alert for any sound that might signal approaching danger.
The cool mountain air was refreshing after a complete moon cycle of days in the low, hot river country; and they savored it as they sat around their modest fire, sipping water from their large animal-stomach bags and chewing pieces of dried venison. The climb up the mountains had been strenuous, as the large, furry robes they carried were twelve hands long and ten hands wide, and weighed as much as a rock that took both hands to lift and throw. Each man carried six such robes, a heavy load, but their expected reward would more than repay their effort. The coastal tribes prized the large hides for their winter warmth and summer softness, paid dearly for them with beautiful shells and jewelry crafted from the red stones found inland from the sea, as well as with an occasional pearl. The four would use their bounty for gifts and to trade for more wealth with others of their own tribe, far to the north in their land of many big waters.
They had made good time paddling their canoes south down the Mother-of-All-Rivers, each man with his own canoe and load of robes, staying in the middle of the river to avoid enemies and stopping only after dark and in unpopulated, defensible spots on the shore. Each night they had taken turns standing guard, and all four had drunk enough water before sleeping to ensure the urge to urinate would wake them early enough to have them safely back on the water before daylight. But the level of effort demanded of them had dramatically increased when they reached the big river that flowed in on their left, for thereafter, they had to paddle upstream for many days. They had loaded all the robes into two canoes, which had then been towed behind the other two canoes, each of which carried two men.
Finally, after paddling up another, smaller river that flowed in from their right, they had reached the place to leave the water and cross the mountains directly toward the rising sun. But before beginning their ascent, they had carefully hidden the canoes for the return trip and constructed their four travois, which had promptly reminded them that dragging a heavy load of hides up a steep mountainside was no easier than paddling upstream. So all four had been eager to reach the summit and begin the easy downhill drag to the flatter land on the other side, and thence across it to the Great-Water-That-Cannot-Be-Drunk. Thus, when they had finally crossed the summit, their spirits had risen accordingly, as evidenced in more-frequent smiles and lighter conversation.
The four men did not look or dress like the coastal people. All had full heads of long black hair that hung behind their shoulders to their waists and wore nothing but thin leather loincloths and rugged leather moccasins. But one looked different from the others. He had a smaller, straighter nose and less-prominent cheekbones and wore five white, black-tipped eagle feathers that protruded to the right in the shape of a fan behind his head. His dark eyes had a sharp depth to them that made them look like they could see inside a man’s soul, read its contents; while his occasional wry smiles revealed a quiet confidence and easy humor that belied the fact that the exhilaration of battle and the hunt supplanted all else in his demeanor—possessed him, filled him with the fierce, unshakeable fixation of a dangerous predator. He was a handsome man by any standard, and the others treated him with a soft deference that showed him to be their leader.
When she reached her special place, Emily sat by the stream, stared at the water swirling in a lazy eddy beside her. Her blue shawl covered her shoulders, and she wrapped her chilly hands in the long ends that hung across her chest to her waist. I was too harsh . . . unkind. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Father cares only for my safety and well-being, and I should not treat him so. His cough is truly worsening. Please, Lord, let it leave him. Still . . . I cannot abide what he did, and I cannot . . . will not . . . marry Hugh Tayler . . . even if what Johnny’s told me is untrue, which I know ’tis not. Oh, Mother, help me. Help me know what to do. Yes, Mother, I’m finished with Hugh Tayler . . . yes, Isna is a Savage, but . . . no! He’s a Savage only because that’s what we in our ignorance have chosen to call people we judge less civilized than ourselves. In truth, he’s a Lakota warrior . . . a brave man . . . with values, gentleness, honor, dignity . . . more genuine than most English gentlemen I’ve met . . . and being with him excites me like nothing I’ve ever known.
She stared at the center of the stream. I must apologize to Father . . . but I shall hold my position. She looked up, surveyed the orange, red, yellow, and green leaves around her; listened to the soft whisper of the stream; heard three different bird songs, the screech of a hawk, the gentle breath of the light breeze rustling the treetops; savored the refreshing chill in the air that invigorated her with every breath. How beautiful you are today, my world. How free from my tribulations. My Lord, I see your face in all around me. What better way to know you and worship you than to admire and delight in the beauty you’ve provided. I wish I could know your mind, for you know what is to become of me . . . of us . . . whether we’ll be alive a year from now . . . how I shall resolve my trials . . . whether I shall know happiness or sadness in the days ahead. Please let me choose my actions in a way that pleases you. And let me know how to govern my feelings, my emotions . . . yes, my passions . . . with Isna. I don’t know how to proceed with him, for in spite of my feelings, he is a Lakota, and he will return to his people. And I am English and must be with my people, my family. So I fear that giving my heart, which I cannot control, can lead only to my deep sorrow at his parting . . . but so be it, for I cannot be without him if he is near . . . I shall simply bear the pain of his one day vanishing from my life. As for now, I shall enjoy my time with him to the fullest.
She drew her gaze back to the eddy, smiled at herself. Seems to be a rather boastful sort . . . but perchance ’tis a warrior trait rather than a personal flaw. No matter . . . I warm at his presence. So let yourself be free, Emily Colman. Dream of him now; let your mind imagine what it will.
She closed her eyes. Isna and I are here by the stream . . . talking with signs and words. He looks into my eyes and . . . she shook her head. “Don’t be a twit, Emily Colman! Do something useful.” Practice your Lakota words. Yes. Practice.
“Man . . . wee-chah-shah.
Woman . . . ween-yahn.
Father . . . ah-tay.
Mother . . . ee-nah.
White men . . . wah-see-chew.
Friend . . . tee-blow.
Water . . . m-nee.
Yes . . . hahn.
Sky . . .” She sensed a stiff, new silence around her. Birds stopped singing . . . like at the massacre. Her body tensed; her neck tingled with a sudden chill; she studied the forest for movement, clutched her knife, listened, waited. After half a minute, she looked back at the water. Seconds later, Isna’s reflection appeared beside hers.