RISE: A TIME WALKERS WORLD NOVEL
Hope you enjoy this sneak peek of RISE, an upcoming Time Walkers World Novel.
Pamunkey Neck, Virginia Colony
COCKACOESKE LOOKED DOWN upon the infant in her arms. He was strong and healthy, for which she was grateful, yet with his swatch of thick dark hair curling in ringlets on his head like a proud banner of his descent, she knew that there was no mistaking where he came from. Her husband, Totopotomoi, was graced with the straight black hair of his mother, and since he was her cousin and from the same lineage, she was well aware the twisted-haired blood did not come from her son’s Pamunkey heritage.
Her child had sprouted from the seed of the Englishman John West – of that, there was no doubt.
“Shh, nechaun,” she murmured, pressing her lips gently to the child’s forehead. The boy squirmed and reached for her with one chubby arm, grasping at her long hair. She let him clutch it for a moment, smiling when his fist relaxed and released to lay upon her breast. He stared up at her with his bright blue eyes as she parted her tunic and allowed him to latch on, his tiny fingers curling and uncurling in a rhythmic motion as he settled in to suck.
“Weroansqua,” a timid voice interrupted. Cockacoeske looked up to see her cousin, Betty, waiting by the door.
“Yes, cousin?” Cockacoeske replied.
“He is here. He asks to speak with you, at your will,” Betty said. Betty was short and petite, her round face creased with worry. Cockacoeske sighed. If Betty was concerned about what consequence John West’s son might bring down upon their people, then others in the village surely felt the same. Although the Pamunkey accepted Cockacoeske as their ruler after the death of her husband, her control over the people she ruled was tenuous at best.
As much as she longed to see John, she hardened her heart to what she must do.
“I will grant him his request,” she said. Betty dipped her head in respect and quickly stepped away from the door, for John was not a man to be swayed even if Cockacoeske had denied him. When John came inside, Betty closed the door quietly and left them alone.
Cockacoeske took him in for a long moment before she spoke, choosing to hold her traitorous tongue as she considered what to say to him. It had been at least a full moon since he last visited, but she was accustomed to seeing him infrequently, considering his current circumstances.
She supposed she had always felt tender towards John, recalling how she had often followed him around the village as a child when he visited. Although he was older, he never minded her presence, and they shared an easy familiarity with each other. When John and Toby were young men and sent away for training under the English militia, she had been devastated, pining away in lovesick heartache for the next year. Yet by the next summer when they returned she had grown into a woman, and it was twenty-two year old John who was suddenly enamored by her and she reveled in his affection.
When John first noticed her as a woman in the summer of her sixteenth year, it seemed there was nothing that could keep him away from the Pamunkey village, despite the fact that she was of the ruling bloodlines and considered untouchable by many of the tribal men. John called often on his cousin, the young Weroance Totopomoi, who the English called Toby West, using him as an excuse to spend time with her. John was a constant fixture in the Pamunkey village that summer as he accompanied his father, Governor John West, or sometimes his uncle, Thomas, Lord de la Warr, who was Totopomoi’s father, each time they had business with the Pamunkey.
Neither of them saw any harm in their relationship then, and in all fairness, she would not have cared even if her elders found out and objected. Yet rule of the Pamunkey descended through the matrilineal lines, and Toby West ensured a strong succession by taking her as a wife. Governor West was of the same mind to strengthen ties between the Pamunkey and English, solidifying that bond by arranging the marriage of his son John to Toby’s half-sister, Unity Croshaw. Once Cockacoeske learned of John’s betrothal, she accepted her union to Totopotomoi without argument.
On the eve of their marriage ceremony, Toby confessed he knew she shared his cousin’s bed, yet he still asked her to stand by his side as his wife. He never mentioned the matter again, and neither did she.
John attended her wedding ceremony, standing stoically beside the Governor and Lord de la Warr. He stopped visiting the village, and she never thought she would see him again, until after the Battle of Bloody Run when he came to her to express his grief over Totopotomoi’s death. It was too easy to let him comfort her in that moment, and although she regretted what they had done, she did not regret their son, and would thank the Great Creator for all of her days for the gift of the child born from their love.
Now as John stood before her and she studied him, she felt her heart skip and her chest tighten as if the very hand of the Creator squeezed her ribs in his fist. In that moment he looked at her as he had that day when he came to her after Toby’s death, his concern obscured beneath a mask of confident indifference. His dark hair was pulled back with a ribbon at his nape, curling tendrils escaping at his temples. He wore the uniform of a militia Captain, his dark grey jacket unbuttoned and his white shirt loosened at the neck. Bright blue-grey eyes met hers, searching her gaze for even the slightest inclination that she shared his thoughts. Nine months before she had welcomed him, taking his offer of comfort in the shadow of that horrific loss at Bloody Run, and they came together as if they had never been parted. It pained her to relive those memories, and even more so because she knew what she must do.
“Are ye well, Anne?” John asked, addressing her by the secret name he gave her when she was sixteen. He stepped forward, closing the distance between them.
“Yes, I am,” she replied. “As is your son.”
She could smell the scent of thick sulfur gun smoke on his jacket when he reached for the child. It clung to him, and she wondered for what reason he had fired his weapon so close to the village. She pushed the tip of her finger into the edge of the babe’s mouth to break his suck, unsurprised when the child uttered a sharp cry in objection.
John took him despite the clatter, holding their son firmly in the cradle of his arms. John was a large man, taller than most, with wide shoulders that always seemed too snug beneath the constraints of his uniform. She had known him in every way that a woman can know a man, through the vulnerable innocence of his youth to the commandeering leader that stood in front of her. He swayed gently on his wide-set legs, patting the child’s bottom in a rhythmic motion until the boy quieted. The hard lines of his face softened, his eyes locked on his son. The sight of such gentle carefulness caused an ache down deep in her chest, sending her back to that sacred place where they had once been so happy.
“I’ve come for ye every week and your guards send me away. You have borne my son, yet ye did not send for me,” he said. “Why?”
“You know why,” she replied. Her response was swift and short, spoken with more bitter discord than she intended.
“Did ye mean to keep him from me? He is mine with no doubt, even if his eyes did not blaze blue in my image and that of my father before me.”
She met his steely gaze. His accusation stung her, for he knew her much better than that. “Of course not,” she said. “I would not deny you your son – just as I know you will never deny that he is yours.”
His skin was flushed at his neckline, showing slightly pink despite his tanned skin. He knew the implication of her statement; she could see how he considered it in his mind. The babe stirred, snoring softly in the arms of his father.
“Is he named yet?” John asked.
She shook her head. “No.”
“Then his name shall be John West,” he replied. She took the babe from his arms, closing her eyes briefly when his hands touched hers. It felt like home to her, yet she could not surrender to the primitive urge that drew her to him, even when his hand slipped up to cup her cheek.
“He is mine, and I claim him,” he said, his voice low and hoarse. She swallowed hard as she looked into his searching eyes and he bent his head, resting his forehead against hers with their son between them.
“Even if that displeases your wife?” she whispered. She felt his fingers tighten, sliding into her hair as he clutched her. Jealousy was a trait unbefitting of a Weroansqua, and she hated that he could still stir that feeling in her bones with a simple touch.
“You are the wife of my heart,” he said. She did not wish to bait him, but the reality of their situation was too fresh. The man she loved was married to another woman, bound to her by the laws of the English King and Church, and their son was only what the English called a bastard.
“Yet now I am a Queen, and that is no longer enough,” she replied. She disengaged from his arms and placed their son on her bedding platform between two thick velvet covered pillows the Governor had gifted her. When she did not turn to face him, John placed his hands on her shoulders. She sighed when he pulled her into his embrace, their bodies fitting together perfectly as if they had been created to spend eternity as one.
“Anne,” he said softly. “Do not ask me to stay away any longer. Surely it is time.”
“No,” she insisted, pulling away from him. She stepped back to widen the space, unable to think or reason or make the right choice when he held her and soothed the burning in her soul.
She must be stronger than that for her son, for her people – and for the memory of the proud leaders that came before her. She was no longer that simple girl who chased her own desires and courted the delicious temptation of the unknown in the arms of an Englishman. The fate of the Pamunkey people was her duty, and by the blood of the Great Weroances who died fighting for the lands of Tsenacommacah, she would rule them wisely.
It was that which she told herself as she stared at John.
“Tell me what you need of me,” John demanded, stepping towards her. “For I cannot abide what has become of us, and I will do what I must to set it right. We have lived this lie too long. I care not for the consequence, even if my father, the Governor himself, sanctions me. Give me the word, and it is done.”
She did not waver, her feet remaining firmly planted as she tilted her chin upward and looked into his face.
“I know your wife has given you a child,” she said, refusing to let her voice waver despite the way that truth tore at her heart. “And by virtue of your family and marriage, you have great standing with the Governor’s Council. You are a Captain who leads the New Kent Militia. You have your place in this world, as do I. Our paths are no longer entwined.”
Creases edged his eyes and his lips pursed into a thin line.
Good, she thought. He is angry now. He will stop with his foolish talk and see reason.
“Because you say it, does that make it so?” he asked, his voice low. His hands clenched at his sides, the fine muscles in his arms raised like corded leather on his skin as he looked down at her.
“Yes,” she replied. “There is no cause to abandon our alliance over this matter. And I have need of your continued loyalty. I need your support when I speak with your father and the General Assembly in three days time.”
“Oh, do ye? ‘Tis that all that you need of me?”
The bitterness from him was clear, she could nearly taste the sting of it on her lips when he leaned close to her. He took her in his arms once more, his hands slipping up to cup her face. She tried to stop shaking and failed, afraid he would press his lips to hers yet longing for it all the same.
“Yes,” she whispered. “That is all I need of you.”
His fingers twisted into the hair at her nape and his head lowered, his lips resting against her ear as he spoke, the warmth of his breath and the heat of his touch singing her deeper than any flame ever could.
“I stayed away once when I learned of your marriage. I stayed away again when Toby still lived because you asked me to,” he whispered. “Yet I will stay away no longer. Be damned my duty or the laws of man. My son will know me as his father, and he will know me as a man that loves his mother, even if you never share my bed again.”
He released her and turned away. She straightened her back as if impaled on a spike, and although she feared her words would betray her, she called out to him when he picked up his flint-lock musket by the door and slung it over his shoulder.
“The Governor made a promise to Totopotomoi,” she said. John paused, his back to her and his hand resting on his belt. “He promised the Pamunkey the rights to this land. The Council has summoned me to break that promise. I will demand that they honor our treaty and abandon their plan to take this land from us. I sent a runner to your father to ask for his support, but I have yet to have his response.”
John turned slightly to the side, his sharp profile outlined in the flicker of amber firelight streaming from the hearth. He nodded slightly, as if to himself, and stiffened his back.
“You will have my support to the Council and the Assembly,” he said. “And I assure you of the continued good intent and support of Governor West to your cause.”
“I thank you,” she replied. He was gone before she finished the words, letting the door of the yehakin swing closed behind him.
It was because of her own actions that he left, yet the sight of his broad back turned away from her in such formality was a gesture that she never wished to see. He was a man with the reputation of even temperament among his peers, gifted with raw strength that he rarely saw fit to use, and she could recall only one or two times that she witnessed him stirred to anger. She did not know how difficult it would be to see him that way until it happened, yet there was no way for her to take it back.
She laid down beside her son on the bedding platform, lying on her side so she could look at his peaceful sleeping face. As she watched him, memories of the past rushed down upon her with the strength of a raging waterfall, crushing what remained of her resolve and bringing a swell of tears to her eyes as she drifted off to sleep.
John was twenty-two and a full grown man when he returned to the village that summer, and she eagerly accepted his offer to accompany him on a walk…
They took a path away from the village, out along the river where it widened and the tree line grew dense. He proudly showed off the trappings of his new position with the New Kent Militia, flashing her a wide smile as she admired his new coat and boots.
“It suits you quite fine, Captain,” she said.
“You think so, Anne?” he replied, using the affectionate nickname he had given her years before. A surge of heat rushed to her face as she smiled back at him and nodded.
“Surely you have the eyes of all those English women,” she added. He turned to her then, his bright eyes soft and alight with mischievous curiosity.
“But do I have the eye of this maid before me?” he asked. “For she is the only one I care to seek attention from.”
His whispered words left her breathless as she stared back at him, her tongue twisted and dry and suddenly unable to reply to his declaration. His gentle smile changed, his gaze fastened on her in the most unsettling manner.
“John …” she said as a sprinkle of warm summer rain dampened her face. They looked up at the same time, taking in the wonder of the sunshine streaming through the tree tops while the tears of the Creator showered down upon them. He kissed her then, as she had never been kissed by another, his hands tangled in her damp hair and their skin slick from the summer shower. She let him wrap his fine wool coat around her shoulders, and later, when the rain had stopped but they were not yet ready to return to the village, they laid together beneath the shelter of the trees. He was persistent, yet patient to her inexperience, his attention to her leaving no doubt where his heart resided.
She was foolish enough to believe it could last – and so was he.
Waking in the cocoon of warm furs, she opened her eyes and nestled her son closer to her breast. He sleepily nuzzled her and rooted to feed, latching on in a greedy manner despite his attempt to fight the comfort of sleep. As he sucked, the remnants of her dreams echoed in her head. She pushed the memories down, burying them in that place where she was just a girl, and John was just the young man she loved.
The warmth of early morning sunshine streamed down upon her from the smoke hole above, and she knew then that the Weroances of old waited for her to lead.
She was the leader of what was left of the Pamunkey people, those who had once been the core of the Powhatan Confederacy and who lived proudly in the lands of Tsenacommacah. It was her duty to see her people prosper, and she would allow no tender feelings she held for an Englishman to sway her course.
She was stronger than that. She was Weroansqua – and she would honor those that came before her.
Release Date: September 20, 2017
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