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What Fools These Mortals Be!
April 10, 1620
I’m quite certain this letter will never reach you, just as I’m quite certain that I’ll never see you again. When I made the decision to go to the New World on one of those caravel ships, and you stayed behind, I knew that I wouldn’t hear from you again. But here I am, writing to you although we are millions of miles apart, it seems.
The trip here was full of opposites: a cabin tiny as an ant, with three overweight matrons to share it with; so sick I know I must be alive, yet dead to the world; the stormy sky as black as night, people’s faces pale as bones. I miss England, and I miss you, and I wish I had not made this decision. Why did I chose to go to the New World at the price of being an indentured servant? Why was I born a girl, so now I’m here I have no choice of anything, but must instead serve Mrs. Princely until my arms fall off. I miss you. I miss you. I miss you, and I want to go home.
April 29, 1620
There are Indians in the surrounding woods. I’ve seen them when they think I’m not looking, skulking around in the shade of the trees like the slithering snakes they are. Mrs. Princely says that they are just waiting for us to leave the relative safety of Fort Princeton, and that once we do, they will kill us all. Why did I come here? The New World would be perfect except for the cursed Indians that stole England’s rightful home.
The fort, in my opinion, is a complete and utter waste of time. It took all of the menfolk to build the dratted thing, and a week that could have been spent getting and finding food was spent building a wall of wood through which I’m sure that the Indians, if so inclined, could easily slip through. Thanks to this ‘great foresight,’ we are at the end of our rations, and I will be one of the first to go hungry. Meanwhile, Mrs. Princely will keep eating and getting fatter. She already looks and acts like a pig, blond with rolls of fat and piggy blue eyes, a snout nose, and more grease and sweat than a soldier could produce in a year. Do you think that Sir William Princely would roast her if we run out of food? We could feed her our last apple and all could share in the feast. Mrs. Princely is a large woman, with lots of meat on her bones. Unlike me. I was slender before, but now I am skinny as a stick. I fear we will help the Indians kill us without effort if we keep going on like this. We will die of starvation instead. I miss you. Tell Mrs. Bromling of the orphanage I said hi.
Actually, she hates me. Don’t.
May 15, 1620
Remember James, the boy from Bromling’s School for Children that left early? Remember how we thought and debated about where he might have gone? I have found out. He is servant to Sir Kladmere, the second-in-command of Fort Princeton. Or, I should say, he was. He ventured out of the fort this eve, carrying a full chamber pot he was to empty, and did not return. There was a note written in dirt by the empty pot, I heard. As I am a girl, I was not allowed to go see. This surprises me. I thought the savages were illiterate.
Mrs. Princely is furious at me, and I’m just glad for the excitement. What happened was this:
Mrs. Princely wanted me to sew up and fix her dress. I did not wish to do so. Honestly! For a lady that spends all of her time sitting around like a bloated pumpkin in the only nice bed in the fort, she sure tears up a lot of dresses. Why? I have no idea. Maybe to give me something to do. But I would much rather do something interesting, so I said, “No.”
She looked at me strangely, like I was mutated somehow. Mary, she thought I was the one mutated! “Were you talking to me, girl?” she hissed.
I was feeling very cheeky at the time. “Actually, I was addressing the spider above your head, but you can listen in as well, may it please you, lady.” Mrs. Princely, never to be called “Princey" (yes, I tried this once,) is terrified of spiders.
She jumped around three meters up into the air, Mary dear, showing the first real exercise she has had in a fortnight. And though she flew high, her hair flew higher still, leaving her head until I could see her bald cap below. Mrs. Princely wears a wig! I should have used reason and not pushed my limits, but I laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
“Do you wish me to tell Sir Princely?” I snickered.
She grabbed for my neck, face purple and pink with rage. “Don’t you dare!”
“What will you do if I accidently let something slip?”
“You will pay!” she screamed.
I regret my impertinence now, but there is nothing I can do about it now. Wish me luck! I will pay, I know, for Mrs. Princely is not one to mince words.
May 20, 1620
This is the last time I am writing to you, for I am soon to die. More men and boys have disappeared from the fort. More messages have arrived. The men debated and debated, long and hard, about what to do. Mrs. Princely told Sir Princely that I had misbehaved and insulted her ladyship, basically acting above my station. This, I believe, influenced their decision.
As I am about to die, I was given two last wishes. My first was that they set me free, send me back to England, or just let me live. This was not allowed. My second was to write you this letter, and to see the message that was always left. This was allowed. It would seem that the savages are quite literate, just not in English. At Mrs. Bromling’s, they taught us about John Smith and how he learned the Iroquois tongue. Remember how I used to spend all of my time learning what I could about it? Well, this seems to be the same tongue. I could not read it, but I knew some of the words.
‘As revenge, something I cannot read, hurting, something, men and boys, something, take our land, something, leave here.’ This is how I translate the note.
‘We have taken your people captive because we want to kill them. You must send us someone to take the place of these men and boys, so we can have a fitting sacrifice for our gods. If you do not send us a sacrifice, we will kill all of our prisoners and then come back and kill you. If you give us what we want, we will stop taking what we know is your rightful land and leave here, never to see our sorry faces again.’ This is how Sir Princely and the rest of the fort leaders translate it.
I am to be the sacrifice. This is how it happens:
They call the whole fort together, a huge gathering. They call, “The redskins will kill us all, unless one brave man sacrifices himself for the good of the community. Who volunteers?” Nobody does. They cajole. “Do you want all of us to die?” No volunteers. Finally Mrs. Princely breaks the dead silence.
“What is that you said, Kelly? You’ll do it? My love, Kelly says she will volunteer to die for us.” Now, here is the unfair part. All the time here I have spent trying to do things.
“I will go scouting for you.”
“No, Kelly, you are a girl.”
“I will go hunt for dinner, as everyone else is sick.”
“You are a girl. You will fail. For your impudence, go hungry.”
“I will search for medicinal plants in the woods.”
“Who would trust a girl’s knowledge? Stay home where you belong.”
But if I am volunteered, unwillingly, to give my life to a bunch of people that hate me (the feeling is mutual,) no one complains. Mrs. Princely shoves me up into the open space, and whispers in my ear, “I promised you would regret it.”
I stand alone with the men in the center, and Sir Rhondale says, softly, “Are you sure a girl will be a proper sacrifice?” before a hand is clapped over his mouth and Sir Princely says, “Will anyone take Kelly’s place?” No one does. They clap me in irons and I am dragged away.
They will tie me to the tree where all of the notes are found, and hope I die. I hope I die, too. Or maybe the redskins will take me as their prisoner. It must be better than the way we act.
I will miss you. I wonder, what is heaven like? I shall see soon enough.
June 1, 2010
Have you ever had a moment when it’s like you were blind all your life and you finally can see? Or when you can’t hear a thing and then you listen to the most glorious symphony?
It must be obvious to you that I am alive, for ‘tis not like my spirit is writing to you. Mrs. Piggy (sorry, Princely) did not have a change of heart. Neither did anyone else. I spent the night tied to a tree. I can honestly tell you that it was the worst day of my life, discounting, of course, the day Harold stuffed eggs down my blouse. All around me I could see what looked like eyes glowing in the darkness, could hear frightening, unearthly sounds, and every cracked twig felt like death itself come to haunt me. It was past midnight when I heard a voice.
As I don’t know how to spell this language properly, I will not attempt to do so. But the voice spoke, in Iroquois, “What in the name of the Creator are you doing here?”
I was terrified. So there were Indians that came here and attacked our men. The voice seemed to wait for an answer, but I was too petrified to speak.
The voice grunted something that sounded a lot like, “Pale-face,” then spoke faulting English. “What do here?”
“I tied to tree. Chief offer as sacrifice,” I replied in my small bit of Iroquois.
“Oh. No know what do with. Take to Iroquois chief,” the voice replied, in English. “Wait, you understand our tongue?” it asked, in its native speech. “How did you learn?”
“Cannot explain. Untie, please?” I begged, sticking to Iroquois.
I heard footsteps leading away from me, and felt sure I was to die.
Soon, a light appeared in the trees, and I could see the owner of the voice. He was not an English colonist, but an Indian. He seemed to be about my age, but a good hand taller than me, with long black hair and a face painted bright red with paint. In the shadows, it looked like blood. In his hand, he held a long, sharp-looking, deadly knife. I screamed, sure he was going to kill me, and shut my eyes tight.
“Please, please, do not let me die!” I prayed. “Do not let me die as a sacrifice so that those that hate me may profit off of my martyrdom! Please, just let there be peace, no more fighting, so those that are still impressionable may never learn the horrors of war!”
I felt a sharp pain on my wrist, and then the rope binding my hands was gone. I fell forward. That must have been the reason for the light, so they didn’t draw as much blood when untying me. I felt a hand on both my shoulders, and then I was led, blind as old Simon the orphanage cat, through the woods.
Soon, I began to see light through the trees. Villages came into view, cleverly disguised as trees, blending into the shadows like paint into wood. The hand brought me through the village, and women and children came out of the houses to glare at me. I felt so different compared to them, me with long blond hair tied up where you couldn’t see it, green eyes, so much clothing all you could see was my head and arms; them, tall with long black locks, dark eyes, only small robes on. I stood out like a pigeon among falcons.
Where were we headed? I wondered. Was I going to be slaughtered now? What had happened to the others? I tried to ask my guide, but he put a finger to his lips, as if telling me to be quiet.
Finally, we stopped in front of a huge wigwam, if that is the correct word, right in the middle of the path. The boy pushed back an animal hide hanging over the doorframe and walked in. I tried to follow, but men grabbed my arms and held me back.
“Let go!” I demanded in Iroquois. “Let go! I stay, just let go!”
The men stepped back semi-respectfully, keeping a wary eye on both the door and me. Minutes later, the boy reappeared. He beckoned to me to come in, so I followed him, nervously pondering what the heck was going on.
My heart pounded for the whole three minutes, thirty-and-eight seconds we spent going up to a large bearskin. The boy pushed it back and led me into the room, promptly sitting on the floor.
A large man sitting on the floor stood up and glared at me, a good head and shoulders above my five feet.
“Who are you?” he thundered in perfect English. “And what in the name of the Creator God are you doing here?”
“You speak English?” I asked, flabbergasted.
“It would seem so. Don’t you? If not, hola. Como estan?”
“No entiendo Español. I am better at English. I am just surprised to see a -“
“ - A redskin speaking English, is that right?”
I blushed. “Yes. I am here because of the note you sent every time that one of our men or boys disappeared. The elders of my village decreed that you wished to be sent a sacrifice, and I was the lucky one chosen.”
The boy rolled his eyes. “Pale-faces be idiots.”
“Nantaquas!” the chief thundered. I had no idea what that word meant, and so looked as blank as Lost Susan when she was asked a question. Has she recovered from her malady yet?
The boy glared at his father. “What, Father?”
“We don’t insult our guests, Nantaquas!”
I was feeling very left out of the conversation right then. “I am not an idiot; I just do not know what is going on. If you would be so kind as to explain it to me, I would love to be enlightened.”
“See?” Nantaquas snorted. “Oh, Creator, what fools these palefaces be!”
I couldn’t help myself, so I snickered. Remember William Shakespeare? My favorite play always was A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and my favorite line is when Puck and Oberon are chortling about Bottom the donkey. The quote is, “Oh Lord, what fools these mortals be!” It is fascinating to see how we can be so alike, and yet we loathe each other.
“What is so funny?” he growled at me. “My words, they amuse you so?” To his father, “I knew we shouldn’t have saved her.”
Affronted, I snapped at him, “Why do you torment me so? What have I done wrong?”
He looked grave. “That is why I brought you to Father. He will explain.”
The great chief gazed solemnly at me, and I could see wrinkles in a haggard, careworn face. “We have lived here since the days of the Creator, since Coyote roamed the forests and played pranks on Raven, since the times when River spoke to Ocean, and the people were many. For many years, we Iroquois have prospered, for we know the land and it knows us. But then the pale-faces started coming to this land, and the worst befell us.
“Oh, it was great in the beginning, for we traded much and gained many valuable things - sharpening stones and beads, and metal. Oh, the metal! If only we had never heard of it! For it has ruined us, every bit of its shiny surface.
“Once we told them that we had metal much prettier than that of their bronze and copper, they went crazy. Palefaces arrived in floods of ships, bringing picks and shovels and digging up the land. We lost a lot of farmland, but we could have survived anyway.
“Then they got greedy, and took over more of our land, bringing with them diseases and more people. They intended to set up a tribe here. We are a generous people. We would have shared. You can see how well that worked out, for now we must hide unless they - you - shoot us with your fire-sticks.
“If it had not been for you, my wife, Nantaquas’s mother, would be alive.”
This was a bit much to take in. It wasn’t the redskins that were taking land that was rightfully ours, it was us taking Native American heritage! Oh, you could not imagine how bad I felt for having thought that Indians must have been bad, just because Mrs. Princely, who lied to me anyway, said so. I should have known to get to know the truth before assuming. But there was one more thing I needed to know.
“What did the message say?” I asked Nantaquas. “The one you left by where they tied me up?”
“Oh, that? It basically said, ‘As revenge, for capturing, shooting, and hurting the Iroquois people, we have captured your men and boys who did the deed. We hope you learn that it is not okay to take our land, and if you want to survive, either get along or leave here.’”
“When our men left the camp, they went to go shoot you?” I asked, scandalized.
“Of course. Once, they had me trapped in a clearing and would have killed me had my mother not run in front of them and given me the chance to escape.”
“They shot her instead.”
“But she’s a woman! Surely we don’t shoot women and children!” I couldn’t believe my ears. We didn’t treat our women with respect, we acted like they weren’t worth anything, too helpless, then we went and shot them! Not alright, at all!
“You know, you’re not as bad as I thought, for a pale-face,” Nantaquas stated. “I should probably apologize for thinking you were just like all the rest, just because you were a pale-face.”
“It is fine.”
The chief finally spoke again. “We brought you here so you could stop the bloodshed. Do not fail.”
By the time I got back out, the sun was starting to rise over the horizon. I could see the fires of Fort Princeton poking up through chimneys. It was hard going back to a town of murderers, but I made myself do it. I had promised I would.
I turned my back on the Iroquois village and did not look back.