A Promis to a White Man

June 6, 2012
By Anonymous

I looked down at my Indian village with disgust. “Uncivil bandits.” I muttered. My horse, Sky, seemed to agree. To be truthful, I was ashamed to be with my people. My people were the cruelest and most feared tribe this side of the mountains. “A sleeping white man, not even mercy is shown to his wife and baby.” I said softly. I had witnessed the gruesome killing of a white man, sleeping in his wagon with his wife and child. We all new white men were a poor match for our warriors, but they hadn’t even given him a chance. I remembered the screams of the wife and the cries of the baby. The most glorified warriors had done that! Yes, I’m ashamed of my people. I’m ashamed of my brother, who wants to be like them. I turned my horse down into the woods. I did not have what white men call ‘saddles’ but galloped through the woods toward my home anyway. My village was full of happy children and women. “Ria! You must help mother, now. Get off of that stupid animal.” My brother shouted from where he was shooting arrows. No one in the village respected my love for my horse. “You might be more animal than Sky is!” I said softly, and went inside our hut. My mother didn’t smile when I entered, but let lose a string of tasks.

The next morning, I went and caught Sky before my mother raised. Not many little faces gazed up as I rode past. Not many were allowed upon a horse, as the elders believed they were for work only, and of course, they took it the wrong way and now it was almost a sin. I kicked at Sky’s sides, and he jumped forward. We galloped away from the children, and before I knew it I was at the white man’s wagon. I wanted to do something to show that I cared. There was a foul smell in the air, and I knew that somewhere the carcass lay of a white family. I did not know how to write, so a message was not possible. I desperately wanted to honour this man, though I had no idea how. I suddenly thought to bury him as if he were one of my own. I paused, and then set to work. I found the body, but only of the man. Not surprising, many coyote roamed the valley. I set stones on him and around him, and covered him up. It made a grave. I was crying bitterly when I was done. I needed to show that it was more than just a pile of stones. Still crying, I found I little cross inside the wagon. It was all that was left. “So we are thieves to?” I asked myself. I placed the cross on the grave and stood there, unsure, and suddenly ashamed of my tears. “Pull yourself together… You know death, many brave warriors have died in your village,” I told myself. Wiping the tears from my face, I turned to Sky. “It is done.” I said. He looked at my silently. It was in this silence that I heard a baby cry. It puzzled me. I followed the sound. It was deep in the wood. I found her then. “The white man’s baby!” I gasped. It was his baby. She wore white clothes, and her skin was white. Near her lay the skeleton of her mother, and the baby was crying bitterly. I felt a tear slide down my cheek. I couldn’t leave her there. I picked up the baby. And suddenly more determined, made my way back to the grave. “I will make it up to you, friend. I will help your child. I promise.” I stood in awkward silence, before boosting the baby unto my horse. I carried it gently, as if I were the mother. “Oh, baby. What will I do with you?” I asked. It stirred and gurgled. “I cannot tell the truth, or….” I didn’t know what they would do. Then it occurred to me. There was a white man’s town. It was many, many miles away, but I had to do something with the baby… “I am sorry, mother.” I said softly, whispering to my mother through the wind. “But, I am more sorry that the white man died.” I knew that I could get food and water from the land. I turned to look at my village, but I only saw the smoke rising from a cooking fire. I knew it was probably a mistake, and that if I would return to my people I might be killed as the white man was. I knew it was to fast, I would be a shame to my family as I should be married by now. I stared down at the crying baby… Then kicked Sky into the direction of the rising sun, without looking back.

I worried about feeding the baby a great deal the first hour. The second hour the worry focused on another, the wind had picked up. I could see the clouds gathering. It would be raining soon. For a second, I doubted my ability. A twelve-year-old Indian girl’s friends were limited. I then firmly scolded myself. “I promised him.” I trudged on. I started to rain, first a drizzle, then a full blown storm. The first cave I saw, I drove Sky into it. Sheltered from the wind and the rain, I held the shivering baby close. “Hush, baby.” I said. I built a fire, and sat near it with the baby. I had given my word to the man, and I would honour it. I removed my dry shirt and the wet blanket I had found wrapped around the baby. I set the blanket next to the fire and the dry shirt around the baby. I sat around the fire half naked and soaking wet. When I looked down on the sweet, innocent, gurgling for food, little girl, I knew I needed to stay with my mission. “Oh, little baby.” I rocked it back and forth, listening to the drizzling rain.

“You need a name. A white name to honour your dynasty.” I said to the baby, shivering. I knew one name; it was a trader’s wife’s name, which came with her husband once a year. “Eve. Your Eve.” The woman’s name fitted the baby nicely. She was sleeping soundly, but I knew she would want food or milk. I had not had I had breakfast that morning. Lying Eve down near the fire, I rubbed Sky’s neck. He snorted. “Good, boy.” I looked at his soaked skin. “Do you think she is worth it, boy?” Sky seemed to pause, but then he snorted again. “My word is my word. I won’t go back on it. I can’t.”

I left Eve and went outside. I took my knife from inside my boot, and flung it viciously at the rabbit. It drooped dead on impact. I could feed the baby with this. I took it back into the cave and skinned it, then cooked it, and feed tiny bits of it to Eve. Sky was munching happily on some grass growing along the edges of the cave. His coat was dry now, and there was no sign of rain. Eve was at least too old for milk; otherwise I would have had a problem. I wondered where the town was. I knew that it was in the direction of a rising sun, and a setting sun was the way home. I did not know how far it was, or how long it would take. It could take a year!

Eve giggled excitedly on Sky’s back. “Are you going to be a horsey girl, Eve?” I took her gurgling as a yes. “Good.” I said. Sky shied at the carcass of a deer. I frowned. It was unusual to see the signs of wolves this time of the year. “The floods have driven them here.” I said to my two companions. It was very bad. Wolves ate things like children, horses, and babies. If the floods drove them here, then the floods aren’t far behind. The village would be moving soon, and I might not be able to find them again. I looked down at Eve, and the scene of mad, yelling Indians killing her father flashed into my mind. I took a deep breath, and kicked Sky forward.

It rained yet again at midday, it was calmer now, but it had a piercing wind. Eve seemed used to Sky’s movements now and she slept soundly. For a moment, looking down at Eve’s sweet face, all worry left me. She had bright blue eyes, and the little hair she had was as golden as the sun… Suddenly, frustration came back, as I spotted the river, and it was raging. Waters rising, I knew I could not cross it with Eve. I saw an entire tree, roots and all, floating by. I knew that the city was east, but I needed to cross this river to go east. I saw again the horrifying killing flash before my eyes…

I would simply search for the shallowest part of the river. Uncertainty filled me, but this time I forced my mind to block out the seemingly close by screams of terror and pain. Glancing again at the raging waters, I knew the shallowest would be pretty big.

Walking along the water’s edge was nerve raking. Each leap of waves, (which were literally waves), made me jump. When I finally reached a calmer region of the river, I knew I would have to be fast. Sky could get to the other side, no problem. But, a weaker swimmer carrying a load, would be almost no match for the rapids that would surely come soon. I slid of my horse’s back, and gave him a smack on the rump. He leaped into the river, which had already raised some, and swam to the other side. His strong body could handle the pull of the stream, but as I looked at the still raising waters I started to doubt my abilities. I strengthened my hold on Eve, and jumped in. The rapids had looked small from the bank, but they seemed to rise to a massive size, engulfing me. I fought for my hold on Eve, swallowed almost a litre of water, and started swimming. Kick, kick, stone. My legs hit more logs and stones than they helped me swim. I could see the shore, but I didn’t seem to be moving towards it. I could see the outline of Sky, and that made me give one last kick. I almost threw Eve before clambering up the bank myself. I breathed a sigh of relief. “I think we made it, Sky!” I said. I could see the waters rising and the sun setting. It was time to make a fire, and dry the baby.

It was another cold night, and signs of winter were coming. I shivered and thought that, if I were home, I would be wearing a thick buffalo coat, and helping my mother in a warm tent. I had no tent, little warmth, and no buffalo coat. Eve started crying halfway through the night, and it frustrated me. I found myself cursing and muttering, as she went on and on! I was unsure if she could eat it, but I gave her the last of my meat anyway. “Now be quiet you white complainer!” My racist speech must have reached her cold ears, because she kept quiet. I watched the flames jump and crackle, while rocking the baby gently. I liked to sing, so I sang a soft lullaby my mother had taught me. I didn’t like it much, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I soon stopped singing, and sat in silence, drinking up the warmth of the fire. The baby looked up at me with those beautiful eyes, and I suddenly felt all of the despair leave me.

I awoke, teeth chattering. Eve was snugged in my shirt now, and I vaguely remembered slipping it unto her to keep her warm. My body was filled with Goosebumps, and I danced around the dying fire on tiptoes to keep me warm. Eve started crying again, and I realized she had indeed eaten some of the meat. I scratched my head. How old is one to eat meat… Even if it was soft meat. I frowned, and jumped unto Sky. Eve was on the ground still, as I had indeed forgotten to hoist her up. Groaning, I did so.

“You need food… I NEED FOOD!” Eve nodded her little head, fascinated by pulling at Sky’s mane. I now knew Eve could eat meat, but not really hard meat. I had one weapon, and killing something this time of year would be… close to impossible. I squinted, and on the horizon, there were mountains, barely visible to the human eye. It would be very, very, very far…. And the white town would be some distance beyond that. Food would defiantly be necessary. By luck, I spotted a berry bushel nearby. “Good.” The soft berries melted in my mouth, as I picked, and picked, and picked berries. Eve giggled as she ate them. I stuffed my shirt full of them, and tied a big knot to close it off with. I was starting to shake again… This time worse than before… the tips of my fingers were starting to go blue. I coughed, once, twice… two wrenching coughs that almost took the wind out of my lungs. “I’m sick…” another cough escaped, and it brought pain to my side. “Eve, you will be sick to…” Another cough, but it came out dry and inaudible. Babies die when they are sick, I knew that. My mind went through the possible outcomes, but I did not come up with any. Eve would die… No matter what I did.

I licked my dry lips. It was hot… very hot. I gulped, and my mind scrambled together bits of information. I now had a raging fever…. Eve would be without help, and no defence from coyotes. I coughed, and opened my eyes. I had been asleep, but I did not remember the cave. A gasp tried to reach the open air through my mouth, but barley a whisper came out. A dark, Indian figure blocked out sun at the entrance of the cave. As it moved towards me, I realized it was an Indian girl, my age.

“Why are you here,” I asked in an almost silent whisper. “What did you say?” She leaned forward towards my mouth, so that the traces of words could reach her ears. “Why are you here, helping me?” I asked again. “It is not a sin to help an almost dead baby and child.” She said, frowning.
“Eve,” My senses were now alert, and the realization that Eve could be dead, strengthened me almost magically.
“Yes, the baby is fine… She is old enough for soup and stew; she has been fed well.”
“Thank you,” she brushed of my thanks with a wave of her hand. “I am Mishra, what is your name?”
“Ria,” I said, my voice growing stronger.
“Why are you out here, Ria? Along with a white man’s child? You have no blankets to keep you warm, and no food either! You came here with haste, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” I said, my eyes downcast. I did not know Mishra, I did not know if she would take Eve away.
“Why, Ria? Why did you leave your future, your family? For a white man?” The blood rose to my cheeks. The subject set fire to my tongue, and I readily sped into an argument.
“YES!!!! Yes I did, Mishra. I left for a white man I do not know, who is now dead. I promised him, I PROMISED him I would take his child to a white man’s town.”
“Ria, that’s senseless. Sacrificing your future,”
“My future was to be married to one of the men that killed an innocent man and his wife while they were sleeping! They didn’t stand a chance!” Our argument was heated, and my raspy voice was becoming very tired, but Mishra continued with new found will.
“They would not have survived anyway, and you know it! It is a warrior’s honour to kill the man who has taken our buffalo, our homes…”
“It was not this man! Should we go kill every single white man in sight, claim war an shed more blood? And, is it really honour to kill him without giving him a fair chance?” Mishra frowned, but finally, shook her head. “Oh, look at us!” she exclaimed. “We are quarrelling after we just met!” Then she busied herself, cooking a soft rabbit stew.

“Why are you all the way out in the plains, Mishra?” I asked. She smiled, shook her head, and tried to swindle her way into another topic as always. “Mishra?”
“Well… it was hard for me, to live in my village. We lived in constant fear of white men, and I was to be married soon. To an old man… whom I did not love. So I ran away from it all, I came here to really make a plan for my life.” She paused, and smiled half to herself.
“It has been almost seven moons and I still haven’t gotten a plan, but I have learned many things. I know of the land and of the sky...” I grinned.
“Mishra? Are…” I frowned, thinking of the right words.
“Are you afraid of white men?” Mishra gazed at me with sullen eyes. She stared out to the plains, at the afternoon sun, which was barely letting light through the heavy grey clouds. “I think I am more afraid of what we all don’t know. About what they have up here,” she tapped her own skull. “The knowledge they might have, could kill us all. It is up to them on how to use it.”

Just as the sun was setting, I sharpened my knife, and drank some water to prepare for my journey. “Ria, are you still going? Alone?” I nodded, and gazed up at her. “I have to. The floods have driven my village further, it is near impossible to find them again. And...”
“Eve,” Mishra finished for me. “You need to take Eve to her village like you promised.” I smiled, and looked down at the girl who was sitting rather near Sky’s feet. “Eve, he will step on you!” I picked her up and settled her by the fire.

“I’m coming with you.” Mishra said suddenly.
“I can’t do anything else,” she said, blissfully.
“All right…” I paused, and then looked the young girl in the eye.
“Mishra… Thank you.”

The next morning, the wind picked up. “It’s going to snow soon…” Mishra said.
I frowned, and thought of all our options.
“How soon, do you think, Mishra?” Mishra looked worriedly at the sky, but her eyes flickered with knowledge.
“In a few hours.”
“We should see how far we can come in that time.” Mishra nodded, and suddenly laughed.
“We are a better team than any army of warriors!”

When the first flakes of snow began to fall, Sky was steaming, and his breathing heavy.
“We should stop now, and shelter by those trees.” Mishra said, and I obediently asked Sky to walk towards the small clump of trees. “Will you build a fire? I can see if I can find food.” My teeth were clamped together, refusing to chatter.

“Mishra!” I exclaimed. Mishra had built us a shelter that would keep out whatever the heavens threw at us. Mishra had built a hut, just like we had at home. She had even had time to make a tiny roof for our horses a few meters away!
“It was easy! The warriors in my village always argue about who does it though. I don’t know why!”

As we ate, Mishra and I talked constantly. Outside there was silence, and darkness.
“Be quite Mishra.” I said, suddenly, straining my ears. My hand grasped my hunting knife. “I heard something.”
“Ria, don’t go outside! It might be,” there was another, distinct sound of a footstep outside. “It is not a bear, Mishra. I’m sure of that!” Suddenly, a human figure stepped inside our hut, covered in a warm coat. My reflexes reacted, and almost without knowing, I jumped unto the person, forced it to the ground, and held my knife to his throat. “Mishra! Help me here!” The person was struggling underneath me, but I remained ontop of him. “ONE MORE MOVE AND YOUR HEAD COMES OFF!” I yelled, but the person kept struggling. Mishra came and pulled of the racoon cap and the scarf that masked his identity. It was a boy, my age or a year older. A white boy.

“What should we do?” I asked, still holding the knife close to the frightened boy’s throat. Mishra looked as unsure as I. “Does he speak our language?” I shook my head.
“Do we speak his?” Mishra asked. I glanced up at her.
“Do you?” Mishra shook her head.
“Do you?” She asked.
“A little bit, not enough though.” Mishra frowned.
“What can you say?”
“I can say, ‘hello’ and ‘food’ and ‘water’ and ‘horse’ and…”
“Is that all?” Mishra asked, worried.
“Yes.” We glanced at the boy. I slowly lowered the hand threatening his life. I rose off of him, but had him firmly by the arm.

“HELLO!!!!” I shouted, in case his hearing had been affected. His face brightened, and his tongue made frequent noises that white people called words. I gave a confused face to Mishra.
“He is talking, he thinks I can.” I said, uncertainly. I planted him firmly unto the floor, next to the fire. I shook my head, but he continued to talk. Finally I physically closed his mouth, and his eyes wavered with fear. I took a deep breath, and shouted, “FOOD!!!” And pointed to the rabbit in the fire. I grabbed a handful of snow from outside and held it over the fire. “WATER!!!” I stepped away from him and sat next to Mishra again. “He is an idiot.” I said simply. Mishra laughed.
“I agree!” We giggled, and the boy frowned, while eating a piece of rabbit.
“Can we always stay friends? Very good friends?”
“Yes, Ria. Very good friends.”

When we woke, the boy was still fast asleep.
“Do you think we should wake him and take him with us?” I asked. Mishra frowned.
“Is he our hostage?”
“Should we make him our hostage?”
“He will probably die on his own.” Mishra said, with no sympathy for him.
“Mishra!” I said, shocked.
“He is just a boy! He has not taken part in murder or buffalo hunting!” Mishra grinned sheepishly.
“Sorry, Ria.” I laughed. Our chuckles had woken the boy and he sat up looking at us with eyes now not filled with so much fear as before. I put my hand on my chest.
“Ria,” I said. Then I placed my hand on Mishra’s chest. “Mishra.” The boy nodded. When his own hand retched his chest he said, “Mark.”

Mark had his own horse, and when we left he had hurriedly jumped unto the black mare. I smiled at Mishra.
“I guess we could drop him of at the town with Eve.” I said. Mishra grimaced, but nodded her head.
“Probably,” She answered, and looked disgusted at the boy swaying uncontrollably in his ‘saddle’. I grinned. This was going to be a very exiting trip. Eve giggled in my arms, as if agreeing.

The boy had heard our language before, probably he had lived next to an Indian village, and he picked up quickly. In a week he could say full, struggling sentences. One day, it dawned upon him to ask a really important question. “Where, a- are…” He paused trying to remember the word. “Are, wi – we, g-go-going.” His sentence made me wonder. ‘Where are we going?’ I really didn’t know, except it was in the east! “To the white people,” I said finally. Marks eyes widened, and he placed his hand on his chest, implying that we were going for him. I shook my head and pointed at Eve. We were silent, processing our thoughts. Suddenly, Mark mad a grunting noise. “We a- are, go- going t-the wro- wrong way.” My eyes widened, but I frowned. Mark pointed east. “Big white to- town. Fa- far, far awa- away.” He grinned. “To far away.” Marks hand drifted north, “White town, ne- neer- near.” I groaned, and Mishra laughed at my stricken face.

“How near is the town?” I asked.
“Ve-very,” He answered.
“How do you know?” Mishra asked.
“The mou- moun- Mountains.” Mark said, pointing at the mountians, rising before us.
“They are so-south of the moun- Mountains…” He said.

Mark’s sentences were more easily understood after some practice. The mountains were growing larger day by day, and it seemed, Mishra, Mark, and me were becoming better friends progressively. Mishra had agreed to stick by me, even after Eve was gone. It seemed so far away, the end. I glanced at Eve, but my gaze was sorrowful…
“You need to live a good life, Eve… One that I cannot give you.”
We were near the mountains… My mission was almost complete… NOTHING would stop me now.

“STOP!!!” I whispered urgently. Quite near us, shots had been fired. We could see two horses galloping towards us, guns blazing. There was no place for us to hide, they were white men. They would shoot us.

The two rides galloped up, and fired a shot that missed me by inches. I cried out in fright. Mark pulled off his racoon cap, suddenly, swiftly.
“By Jove!” I heard the man say.
“What do you think that means?” I asked Mishra, who shrugged.
Mark talked English for a few seconds. Suddenly, he stopped in mid-sentence, and his hands rose just a little. The man had drawn his gun again.

“He wants o- our mo-mony- money.” Mark whispered.
“We don’t have any,” I answered.
“He thi- thinks we ha-have.” Mark said grimly. His halting speech was understood quickly, and fear gripped me, abruptly.
“Were the other man?” I asked.
“Hi-he wen-went to pi- pee.” I grimaced. My eyes were closed, and my heart was hardened to what I would now do… my hands slowly went down to my boot…

It wasn’t reality… It was a gruesome story, to be told at camp fires… My knife was drawn as swiftly as any gun, and it was flung accurately at the white man’s chest. He never saw it coming, and a cry of agony escaped from his lips, to float into the winter’s breeze…

The next few hours were like a dream. I grabbed the dead man’s gun, and drew my knife out of him, and cleaned it with fresh snow.
“Sorry,” I said in Marks direction, for his face was pale, and glued to the blood stain in the snow. Mishra, like me, saw killing every day, so she busied herself taking the guns off of him. There was a sound in the bushes, I took a gun, aimed, and the figure that emerged could just as well have been dead…

To Marks dismay, I dug two graves with my freezing fingers. I rolled the bodies into them, and covered them with snow.
“They will show in spring,” Mishra said.
“We will be gone by spring,” I answered, and glanced at Mark.
I swore, and went to hide the blood stain in the snow with more snow.
“You ki- killed them,” he whispered.
“I had to, Mark.”
“You, did- didn’t even bli-blink when you di-did.”
I blinked, and realized with an ache in my heart what I had done… I was as bad as them, the warriors, who killed. I glanced at the graves, and knew that even though I did what I had to do… The image would never leave my mind.

We rode into the town silent. Mark got of his horse, went into the saloon, and ordered a large mug of, something.
“What do we do with Eve?” Mishra asked. I spotted two women, walking down the street who seemed well of.
“Get that drunken Mark,” I answered.

Mark came in a condition that was usable, since he had not even touched his drink.
“Translate to them, tell them how I got Eve, and what I want to do.” Mark approached the ladies, and they nodded earnestly to his words. He handed them Eve, and walked away.

I frowned, and went to say goodbye.
“Bye, Eve. I’ll miss you,” I said. Eve giggled.
The woman smiled down at the baby, and I knew she would be in good hands.

Many years later, I was not married yet, but Mark had built me a house and I enjoyed living by myself, occasionally playing with Mishra’s children, who was my loving neighbour, and who had married Mark, surprisingly!
I stood outside one day, watching the prairie wave to the sky. Mishra and I were the only Indians who lived under a roof, and had a house. I stared to the blue sky, and remembered my own loving horse, which had died. Suddenly, I saw her, riding a chestnut bareback, her glorious brown hair flying out behind her. “MARK! MISHRA, SHE HAS COME BACK!!!” I could speak English very well now, and I rushed down to her. Mark ran outside, along with Mishra who was carrying a baby. “It is, it is you, Eve.” The young girl sat on her horse, and looked down confused. Suddenly, her mother and father rode out of the woods, with saddles. “Eve, EVE! Don’t ride in such an uncivilised manner,” The father paused when he saw us…

I smiled, my eyes fixed on Eve. She was grown up… Raised by a white family, but brought to them by two Indian girls and a boy.

And it was worth it.
Worth all that we had gone through, for a promise to a white man.

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This book has 1 comment.

perdjie said...
on Jun. 8 2012 at 6:37 am
This is my first book/novel! Do you like it?


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