In the library were hundreds of leather-bound tomes. Somewhere in a corner lay a Protestant Bible, whose cover had been scorched by flames. I took it with care and I saw it new again, opened with reverence by McKinney, the same man whose hands still held the tome, even as the fire ravaged his body. I was able to save the book, tearing it from his fingers, blackened, but whole. A miracle, McKinney would have called it. The same man who, in his last moments of agony, shouted more blasphemies than others in a year.
And it was my fault, all of it. In that night I had lost my pride, but the others had lost more, their lives. I could have saved them – in any of the twenty hours that we had walked, ran, and walked again, with our hands tied, with ropes around our necks, pushed and hit every time we slowed or stopped.
We were four women, a man, a teenager, and sixteen Indians who seemed to want to kill us by exhausting us. But that was not what they had planned, and not all of them were Indians. Two of them wore the moccasins and garments of the tribe, but their stride was different. They moved awkwardly through the forest, and they had muskets.
Then I heard them.
Only their whispers, phrases interrupted by look full of understanding. They were French. Who were they hiding from? The Indians knew who they were and they had no reason to care about us. The women only heard their fear, the reverend McKinney recited in his mind the psalms written on the sand by Moses after crossing the Red Sea, David also repeated a litany, just as silent and monotonous: Please God, I don’t want to die, not now, not when Kate…Mrs. McKinney? In Dartmouth, Katherine was crying for both her men.
Jean-Luc and Jean-Pierre weren’t brothers but shared the same mind. They had deserted their King’s army, and now they planned to steal from fate everything that had never been given to them. Jean-Pierre knew exactly what he wanted from the twins at the first halt. Jean-Luc had the same intentions − with David. Of me and the Perkins widow, they didn’t care. Only the Indians gave me long, strange looks. Maybe that is why I allowed them to live, to march us on. It was just curiosity, this dance with death? Or was I looking to know more about those whom I had to consider enemies, without knowing who they really were?
Arrived in the New World, the Scotsmen found themselves in the middle of a merciless war, one they didn’t understand. In Europe, the armies line up in rows, face to face, the soldiers shooting each other from a few meters away. Then they rushed forward with bayonets and the stock of their weapon, to end what they had so foolishly begun. The Indians emerged like specters from the fog, from forests, and marshes; they killed and disappeared, then returned again. Centuries ago, the Scotts under William Wallace had harassed the English in the same way, and at Bannockburn, they had earned their freedom. But they had forgotten. They were civilized now. They had brought with them only what the English had forced them to learn, what they wanted to give, in their turn, to the Indians. Of course, still by force.
The Indians were wild, cruel, and pagans – even the settlers’ children knew that, just as they were convinced that the lands of the New World belonged to them and to King George. Funny, how quickly people turn from victims to executioners.
More Omicron Chronicles
I had nearly stumbled on a boulder, and the rope around my neck took my breath away. The warrior in front of me pulled the rope, the one after me struck me in the ribs and for a moment I was about to…
But not yet.
The thoughts of the Indians intrigued me, they were fascinating and paradoxical. These red-skinned people were so different from Europeans! Not just in their faces, in their bodies. They didn’t try to understand or tame nature – they had become a part of it. Were they uncivilized? Maybe they were. They didn’t build bridges, roads, cities, or ships. But they had kept their forests. Were they cruel? They didn’t kill for pleasure, only to survive. Were they pagans? They didn’t look at storms, plagues, life, and death as the grand design of a supreme ruler. Their gods were the sun and the moon, the sky and the earth, the trees, and all living things. The Indians had one desire above all others: to see the white people who had come across the ocean with their strange boats, weapons, clothes, and customs living their lands. The white men had brought unnatural habits like those of Jean-Luc who…
An unexpected jerk forced me to my knees. Did they allow us a stop?
One by one we collapsed in the grass, tired. We were allowed a respite. The French gave us some stale and bitter water, which we greedily sipped. Only the reverend refused their mercy. Thirst troubled him less than his anger and disdain for the two. Enemies, deserters, Catholics or pagans – were the same for Angus McKinney. The Indians and the French were both born in hell, and that is where they will return, but not before punishing us for our sins.
The flames swayed in a hypnotic dance under the sky which fell over us, wrapping us in the night, until my eyelids began to grow heavy. I didn’t want to sleep, I should not have, I was missing something important, and essential − what was it? The nagging thought insistently buzzed like a bumblebee, until a giant heel smashed it, bringing me silence, and forgetfulness.
When I opened my eyes again the bumblebee had returned with a deafening noise. Then I heard other sounds, something between whining and huffing. Where was it coming from? The Indians had all fallen asleep near the remnants of the fire, the prisoners too. Then I saw it.
It looks like a being who was trying to shake itself of the dark fog before the dawn, with jerky movements, faster and faster. Man, beast, a creature of nightmares? With some delay I finally recognized the two shapes bound together, struggling in a clash that was no longer a fight: Jean-Luc and David. The adolescent with a white, slender body and the satyr-man melded together into an impossible dance of blows and convulsions, which repeated over and over. Then I saw the congested face of the Frenchman, passing from frowning to ecstasy, with eyes of an assassin who was sticking his dagger, and the angelic face of the boy, begging the sky from which no one was looking.
And suddenly, with a shout, the madness began. The Indians jumped to their feet, Jean-Luc toppled over David, something shiny, metallic stuck between his shoulder blades: a crucifix. Next to them, Angus McKinney stared at his blood-stained hands with an amazement which I shared – when and how had he untied himself?
The Indians had awakened. Same pulled David from under the Frenchman’s body, dragging him to the nearest tree. They hung him by his arms as he was, naked and dazed, while others brought the reverend who clutched the Bible to his chest. They didn’t take it from him; instead, they wound the ropes over it and the reverend’s body, heaping a pile of branches under his feet, and then bringing a torch and…
The thought should have resounded in everyone’s head, freezing and horrifying them. It didn’t.
I tried again, beginning to feel disquieted. Again, nothing happened. An Indian strung his bow, uncaring, while the others fed the fire. Neither did Jean-Pierre hear me, nor the women. Elizabeth sung slowly, her eyelids closed, deaf to everything, Miriam gazed at the sky, fascinated by the frolicking herds of clouds, Harmony counted the blades of grass.
What had the French given us to drink?
An arrow flew, and then another whistled through the air. When the arrows pierced David, his body twitched, trying to pull itself free, to escape, but only the body. The boy looked at the blood trickling down his abdomen, on his ribs and laughed. Two more arrows brought more laughter.
Fear was a new sensation, an experience which I had never wanted. I was used to knowing what will happen next, to be in control. Now, I could only guess what would follow.
But McKinney had no doubts: “Sons of Sodom, fornicating Frenchmen! You will pay for your sinful actions and for the innocent souls whom you condemned forever. Cursed be you, denizens of the land of damnation!”
The French Revolution had not yet begun, the Republicans had not turned their faces from God, and Napoleon had not frightened Europe – but for the puritan pastor, all Frenchmen were monsters.
Hell and the apocalypse didn’t frighten Jean-Pierre; it only reminded him that he had not sinned – yet. He overturned Miriam over her sister, and with one jerk he tore her dress and her corset. The pearl buttons sprang in all directions, Harmony caught some of them like fireflies and Miriam tried to help her. They both laughed, but the man gritted his teeth; then, while their bodies seemed to have knotted, his fingers tore the last rags from them, clenching their arms, nails leaving behind bleeding scratches, teeth sinking into soft flesh.
David wasn’t laughing anymore. Two Indians gutted him without rushing, and he just watched them in surprise, not understanding what they were doing. That’s how he passed into the great beyond − eyes wide, maybe still thinking of Kate.
The first thunders sounded, the trees cracked under the fury of the wind, and the flames rose to the sky, hiding Angus McKinney, whose curses had become hoarse and broken. The soprano voice of Mrs. Perkins broke through the shouts of the warriors who were rolling her through the embers and ashes, and then I heard the twins, a single piercing cry, suddenly halted.
After that, there was silence. Elizabeth remained motionless, curled up in a black puddle, the reverend had become quiet, swallowed by the oak that became a pyre, Miriam and Harmony lay broken over a tree stump, the Frenchman clenched the handle of the sword which had nailed them both to the rotting wood, and the Indians had spotted me in the light of the lighting and were coming towards me.
Then they stopped, staring at the hole in Jean-Pierre’s chest and at a second one, on his forehead. They had heard neither the gunshots nor the steps of the man who stepped into the light. He stopped beside me, lowered his pistols, and then he looked at me sternly.
“This isn’t a game, Lorena.”
Calder was here? Of all the sons of the Ancients who roamed the earth, it had to be Calder Wallace who finds me helpless, in the hands of the Indians who were ready to kill their last prey!
The warriors reverently bowed to him, like before the Great Spirit: whoever had seen Calder fight, didn’t want him as his enemy. But he ignored them. He looked only at me, intently. What was he waiting, for me to untie myself and then force the Indians to slit their own throats? If I could have, they would already be long dead! The anger and humiliation had brought all the blood to my cheeks.
Calder bent down, but rather than removing my bindings, he brought his lips close to mine, sipping my breath. Without wanting, I found myself answering his kiss. Such a long time had passed since…
He detached himself abruptly, shattering the magic of the moment.
“The tears of the white snake!”
I murmured something, maybe a question.
“It is a shamans’ potion. It shows them the past and the future, and opens ways to other worlds. Those people who are unfamiliar with it lose their minds; we are robbed of our powers. What is it like to be human, Lorena?”
“Terrifying. How long will it last?”
“The effect, only until tomorrow. But you will suffer some terrible migraines for a few days.”
Pain? How does that compare to the horrible and insufferable sensation of being helpless
Calder lifted me to my feet, and our eyes met for the first time.
“Calder, did I thank you for saving my life?”
“Then I said something completely unexpected, even for me”.
“One day, I will.”
I tore the Bible out of the reverend’s blackened hands, and I turned around, starting to the forest alone, without looking back.
Rodica Bretin was born and raised in Brasov, a town in Transilvania, not far from Dracula Castle. She began writing her debut novel at an early age, after obsessing over books about the mysteries of the world. When she’s not writing, she can be found wandering through the dense forests around his hometown. Currently she lives and writes in a house next to an old fortress, with her cat Lorena.
She published her first book, „Holographic Effect“, in 1985. Since then, she has published over thirty novels and volumes of stories, on some favorite topics: time travel paranormal, medieval times, the Viking Age, fantasy and science-fiction.
Rodica Bretin is a member of the Romanian Writers Union (USR) since 1991.