On his way to St. Augustine from the summer camp of his people, Sailfish has camped out for the night when he gets an unexpected visitor. A sick, old panther has followed a wounded person into his little camp. He kills the panther and sets about bandaging the person's wounds.
With a cry of surprise, Sailfish sat hard on the ground, legs flying upward. The person lying on the ground wasn't a young man at all. Puzzled, he gazed into the silent face.
"Who are you, little one, and where do you come from?"
The day neared mid-afternoon when the young woman stirred, opening eyes the color of new palm fronds. The gentle green was flecked with specks of gold. Sailfish's dark, penetrating gaze met hers as he smiled. Two spots of color rose in her cheeks when she realized her chest was swathed in bandages and nothing else. Scrabbling weakly with the edges of Sailfish's matchcoat, she tried to pull it over her. He kindly averted his eyes, concealing his smile.
"Forgive me for pointing out I've already seen you." He spoke softly in Spanish, hoping she understood.
She babbled quickly in response. It took him a moment to realize she was speaking French, her accent was slightly different from what he was used to. He repeated himself, in French this time, raising the edge of the cloth to her chin.
"Merci," she replied, mortified by her nakedness. Turning her head as far as she could from his gaze, her blush deepened.
"How do you happen to be out here alone?" he asked.
"My family," she sighed, picking at the frayed, singed edge of his matchcoat. "They were killed. I was the only one to get away. I don't even know where I am."
"Where are you from?"
She wouldn't speak.
"Who killed them?"
"Men like you."
"Like me? You mean Indian men?"
She nodded, her eyes full of tears.
"Exactly like me?" His tribe was distinctive. All the men were very tall and tattooed from head to foot, their hair decorated with beads, bits of shell and metal. No other tribes bred such tall warriors.
The young woman shrugged, gasping as her flesh pulled uncomfortably against her wounds. "They were not as tall as you, but were dark and angry men. They killed Papa, shot him through the chest. My mother—" She shuddered. "She was not so lucky. My sisters either. My baby brother, they took him away. I don't know how they killed him. He was screaming, then suddenly he stopped."
"How did you escape?"
"I was in the woods with my friend. He made me hide until it was over."
"He was wise to do so."
"He tried to help my mother, but they killed him too. It was awful." She burst into tears, sobbing piteously.
Sailfish wanted to comfort her, but didn't know how. A girl who had seen her family brutalized and murdered by Indians would hardly turn to another for solace. Instead, he gave her some broth he he'd made from jerked meat.
She drank hungrily, asking for more when she was through. "I haven't eaten for so long."
"Then that is all you may have for now. If you eat too much, you will lose it."
Conceding the truth of his statement, the girl fell into an uneasy sleep. Sailfish finished a simple shelter to keep the sun off her and caught fish for their evening meal. She still hadn't woken by the time it was ready.
He ate his meal in silence, waiting for the girl to wake. She woke as he cleaned up after his meal. Sailfish served her some food, hoping she would make the next move. Unused to the company of women not of his tribe, he had no idea what to speak to her about. There wasn't that problem with Gabriella. She always had plenty to say. His face clouded.
The bright, green eyes missed little. Touching him fleetingly, she drew his attention. "What makes you sad?" It was strange how she said it, emphasis strong on the pronoun. She knew her own grief, but his sorrow puzzled her.
"Something very hard to explain," he said.
Instead of elaborating, he walked to the river and washed his dishes. He cleaned up around the camp, checked the fire and lay down with his pack for a pillow.
"She must be someone very beautiful," the girl stated quietly, staring at the growing darkness.
"The woman you carry in your heart."
"What makes you think it's that?" Sailfish's tone turned defensive.
"Because the only time I saw that expression on my older brother's face, was when a woman broke his heart."
© 2017 Dellani Oakes