Six Nations Territory She ran. Breathless, heart straining. Despite the stabbing pain in her side and the fire in her lungs, she forced herself on through the crackling underbrush. The cold wind whipped hair in her eyes. Briars tore her face and hands.
Yet with each labored stride, the soldiers' shouting voices drew closer. She dared not look back for fear of losing ground, dared not avert her eyes from the forest path.
But where was she to run? As if the question were an obstacle in her path she stumbled to a halt.
There was no one to help her. The People had gone, taking with them all help, all hope. She was alone. The outcast. Nameless.
Gasping, she slumped to her knees into the dew-drenched leaves.
The witch Jiiwi is no more!
The truth of it choked her. She set her teeth against the cry of anguish rising in her throat. She could have chosen death! Death at the hands of The People would have been swift. Nichus, her-husband-no-longer-her-husband, had assured her.
But her fear of death had been stronger than her fear of the unknown. She had chosen life. And with it, banishment.
She tore wind-blown hair laced with leaves and twigs from her face and glanced back over her shoulder. The soldiers were nearly upon her.
Five of them. They slowed their pace. Perhaps they knew she could run no more. They approached as if puzzled, talking among themselves. "Savages musta left her behind when they sneaked off," one of the men said. "Why d'you suppose...?"
"Hotakwih!" she said to herself, unable to hold back the tears. It is finished. Raising her eyes to the sky above the autumn colored hills, she whispered, "Hohsah." It has begun. She bowed her head. "Haywokahweh!" I have gone in a circle.
When the blue-coated soldiers caught up with her, she no longer had the strength nor the will to resist.
Two of them edged closer to her in the shadows. "Here, we're not going to harm you," one said, his voice a raspy whisper. "Do you understand?"
She could not bring herself to look at them. Soon they would do more than talk. She knew. Soon they would see what she was. They would take her away. Take her back. Back to where the circle had begun.
"Not so close," the other man ordered. "Give her room. You're scarin' her."
A twinge of unease rippled through her stomach. These were the same blue coats that had left a trail of ashes where thriving villages once had stood, who girdled the fruit trees so they would wither and die, who laid waste the fields of corn and squash and beans. She had seen them before, in her dreams. Her dreams had shown them the way.
"Good God!" another of them cried out. "She's white! The woman's white!"
The first man knelt before her. "Do you speak English? Can you tell us your name?"
She would not trouble herself to reply.
"Here!" A man fumbled in his pack, producing a slice of jerky. He extended it just beyond her reach, an attempt to lure her closer, like a starving dog. But she would not oblige him. "I'll wager you're hungry."
She lifted her head slightly and eyed the meat with longing. Three days of subsisting on nothing but roots and groundnuts had left her light-headed and weak. But she would accept none of their food. She looked down at the leaves.
"Suit yourself," the man grumbled, and tore off a piece with his teeth.
In the distance, the shouts of men rose above the morning stillness. An acrid odor wafted on the wind through the trees. Across the meadow, lush with green grasses, beyond the expanse of ripening fields and orchards, the soldiers had set fire to the village.
From a place deep inside her, as if awakened by the sounds and smells, an old terror forced itself past the dust of forgotten memory.
Voices from the past rang out across time. Silenced for so long, they gained new strength and force on the billows of smoke darkening the sky.
Mama! Her own voice. The voice of the child she had been.
For as long as she could remember, her dreams had been filled with fire and smoke. And a savage host tore her from one world and thrust her into another. So it had been in the past. So it would be again.
"Haywokahweh!" she said, and she closed her eyes.
The circle was complete.
Excerpted from "Winter Fire" by Kathy Fischer-Brown. Copyright © 2011 by Kathy Fischer-Brown. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.