by Suzanne Hayes Campbell

The rustling sound awoke Prissy to the blackness of a moonless night. The embers of their small campfire ceased to glow and had cooled. Is it nearing morning, or closer to the witching hour? She held her breath, with all muscles tensed, and strained to listen. Beside her, Jacob’s slow even respirations were of one still in slumber. Below the canopy of trees in the deep of the forest, even faint starlight could not penetrate and all below was inky velvet, but not quite. With eyes opened wide Prissy saw contours and depths that could barely be discerned though not identified. Sudden forest sounds burst like noisy sparks startling her. The little night creatures were not what had awakened her, and when no other disturbance came, the forest stilled. Prissy sighed and snuggled closer to Jacob’s warm back, for the days of summer had dwindled and the nights had grown longer and cooler. She closed her eyes against what she could not see, and drifted.

Prissy had slipped again to the edge of unconsciousness when something rough and hot clamped over her mouth and nose, then strong arms jerked her to her feet. The unseen assailant pinned her arms, pulling her body against his. It was a man. She smelled the musky sweat and foul breath, but he did not utter a sound and neither could she scream. His large palm blocked her voice and ability to gasp for air. In a moment she would pass out, but first her ears frantically searched for sign or sound from Jacob. Just as her struggle to breathe neared its ebb the hand loosened and lowered slightly, giving Prissy an opening to bare her teeth. Reflexively, she drew a deep, wrenching breath. In seconds, the oxygen refreshed her brain and she bit down hard on that hand. With an angry cry he let her go and she screamed as loud as possible, but scuffling noises and muffled grunts told her that Jacob was already captured and could not help her.

Freed in the pitch dark, she struck out blindly across the campsite and fell flat on her face. She could not see what had tripped her, nor could she make out the man who hauled her up again. Though she shrieked and thrashed with both her arms and legs, the man wrestled her to a sitting position in his lap where he held her tight. She felt a cold metal blade against her neck. His deep, low voice growled something close to her ear, so close she could feel his lips moving against her skin, but she could not make out the words. It was a strange, guttural tongue, but the tone was unmistakable. She stopped struggling and sat quietly. The knife pressed to her skin had cut her, and a warm trickle of blood ran down her heaving chest.

It was still too dark to make out the features of her attackers except for a glitter of dark eyes in the weakest light of stars. Now two men held her. She submitted passively to the tying of her wrists and feet. She prayed silently that Jacob was unhurt, but heard nothing beyond similar movements and mutterings nearby.

For a few moments it went quiet, and she felt cool air on her skin as her attackers moved off. These must be wild Indians and not like her Jacob.

Jacob spoke English like a gentleman; he was patient with her and kind. She had no trouble drawing such a distinction between the savages and the boy she had entrusted with her life. He was Indian in blood, but not like these thugs who held them now.

Prissy trembled as she sat in the dark where they had left her, though she wasn’t cold. A root or stone jutted into her thigh and there was nothing to lean against. Frightened and uncomfortable with her arms bound behind her back, she wiggled sideways with difficulty, pulling her legs up under her. The same low voice rumbled at her in a harsh, accusing tone so she stopped her shifting.

Then Jacob’s voice came to her softly from a short distance away, “He says, ‘Be still.’”

“Jacob! Have they hurt you?”

The rumbling voice came back louder and more insistent.

“Shhhh! Prissy, be still, do not speak, or he will cut your throat,” Jacob whispered again.

Immediately, Prissy heard a sharp smack, then Jacob groaned and she heard his body slump to the ground. She gasped and cried out his name, but a hard slap sent her reeling as well; pine needles scratched her cheek and dirt stuck to her bloodied lip, but she dared not move.

Hours passed as they lay there, while the night slowly peeled away like windings of a black shroud; with each succeeding layer a little more light shined upon her body. Finally, the dark pall of the forest lifted enough that Prissy could see Jacob sitting up against a rotted stump. Nearby sat four young men pawing through Prissy and Jacob’s belongings. The Indians ate the last stale bread loaf that Prissy had packed in a length of linen, and also the remaining smoked rabbit from Jacob’s kill made two days earlier. Now they pulled her personal things from the canvas sack. The larger of the four removed a leather bound journal and looked at the blank pages with a bemused expression. He tossed it aside.

“Stop!” Prissy’s voice rang out in anger.

She felt Jacob’s moccasined foot kick lightly against her leg, and she glanced over to see him shake his head, No. She looked back at the men, who ignored her and continued their inspection of the rest of the provisions. They murmured amongst themselves, hardly paying their captives any mind at all. She realized that they were quite young, perhaps not more than a year or two older than she, maybe the same age as Jacob. They were just boys really, albeit strong and fiercely violent ones.

When the sky shone light through the branches of the trees, the young men got up and gathered all of the gear, except for Prissy’s book, which lay in the dirt where it had landed. The smaller one, with the thin hair and squinty eyes, untied Prissy’s hands and moved them around in front of her body, retying them so tightly that her fingers went numb. He removed the thong from around her ankles and used it as a tether to lead her.

They made to leave the camp but Prissy hung back, looking first to the book and then to Jacob. She did not want to leave her journal, but was afraid to speak. Jacob read her pleading look and said something to the largest young man holding Jacob’s rope. The man laughed and shook his head. Jacob tried again. Prissy could not understand anything that passed between them. However, after a few more words, the big man directed Little Squinty Eyes to bring the book. With an exaggerated sigh that could be understood in any language, he picked it up and put it in the sack he’d slung over his shoulder. With that, they set out walking at a brisk pace. The big man led the way, followed by Jacob, then another younger man after him. Squinty Eyes pulled Prissy along, and some distance behind the last brave watched her back.

All morning the Indians and their captives trotted quickly through the forest, never stopping, except to haul Prissy up from her frequent falls. She tripped over her skirts, or branches, or just lost her footing in her Dutch house slippers. At noon they stopped briefly and ate a bit of dried meat and nut meal cake they called pemmican, which to Prissy smelled rancid, but hunger drove her to eat the tiny chunk she was given without much hesitation. They did not stop again until after nightfall, when they were given another small portion of the dried food.

Each night the prisoners were tied to one of their captors. Prissy moved as far away from Squinty Eyes as she could and tried to sleep, wishing she could have curled up next to Jacob. In the morning she found that her captor had sought the warmth of her body, and with disgust she threw off his arm that had draped over her waist in the night. He grinned sheepishly, but said nothing.

Their captors kept up a merciless pace, at least for Prissy, who started each day tired and by midday was exhausted. Jacob, however, coped well enough and even seemed to be enjoying the trek. It looked to Prissy that, for Jacob, these ruffians had assumed the roles of guides rather than abductors.

Prissy watched this and doubts crept into her mind. Jacob was an Indian and these men were Indians. She was not. Jacob spoke their language. She did not. What would become of her? Where were they going? And why was Jacob not as frightened as she was? On whose side was he?

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