...It was two days before Wind Cloud returned. By then, Octavia, called Fire Hair by all the village, had been taught how to hoe and to plant vegetables—corn, beans, squash, pumpkin, melons, and sunflowers as she worked with the women in a communal garden. The small trees in the orchards surrounding the village, she learned, would yield a harvest in the fall of apples, pears, plums, and peaches.
“In old village big trees, many fruits,” Mere told her. “Soldiers burn village, cut down trees. We start from beginning here. Much work.”
Octavia nodded, regarding her blistered, dirty hands ruefully. She didn’t find the work demeaning but, since she was unaccustomed to physical labor, she did find it hard. Mere had given her a dark blue broadcloth skirt with a red flannel underskirt and an overdress of light blue flannel to wear instead of her rather bedraggled wool traveling gown and more delicate undergarments. Her boots had been replaced with deerskin moccasins decorated with porcupine quills.
On the fourth day of Octavia’s stay with the Seneca, she was in the garden with the women when Soeur cried out, dropped her hoe and ran toward the stream. One by one the other women followed until Octavia was left alone. Blue Water rushed back to her and took her hand.
“My brother, he comes,” she said. “You come see.” Refusing would be churlish so Octavia allowed herself to be pulled along in Blue Water’s wake. She hadn’t missed Wind Cloud’s presence she told herself, denying the speeded-up beat of her heart when she caught sight of him aboard the overloaded dugout pulling into the shallows.
Blue Water sucked in her breath, putting a hand to her mouth in dismay as Wind Cloud, after leaping from the canoe and assisting in dragging it onto the pebbled beach, reached into the dugout and, with another’s help, carefully lifted out an obviously injured man.
“Who is he?” Octavia asked Blue Water.
“My sister’s husband.” After a moment she added somewhat hesitantly, “Twisted Tree,” and Octavia realized she’d translated the man’s name into English.
Work was abandoned for the day as the entire village gathered inside the stockade to listen to the tale of the two men who’d accompanied Twisted Tree on the hunt. Blue Water translated for Octavia as best she could.
“Sun go down. Good time shoot deer come to drink at stream. Twisted Tree stay by fire, his turn to cook fish they catch. Bear cub smell fish, come to eat. Twisted Tree see him, see mama bear follow. She fear he hurt cub, try to kill him. He grab gun, shoot quick, not kill her. Fight her with knife. She claw, bite. Men hear Twisted Tree shoot, come running, shoot mama bear dead. Kill cub, too, because he no live with mama dead. Much meat for village. But Twisted Tree bad hurt, no can walk. One man run long way to our village, get help.”
The injured hunter had been taken inside the medicine lodge and no one except the medicine man was allowed to be with him, not even his wife. Soeur drooped mournfully outside the door until Mere took her by the arm and led her home where she placed half-finished moccasins in her hands. Watching Soeur repeatedly wipe her tears away as she tried to sew, Octavia’s heart went out to her.
“Will her husband live?” she asked Mere out of Soeur’s hearing.
“Master of Life says who live, who die.”
Wind Cloud had used the same words—Master of Life—in discussing her father’s death. Perhaps it was the Seneca name for God.
She didn’t see Wind Cloud until late afternoon. Octavia was sitting on a reed mat outside the lodge, sewing with his mother and sisters. With her it was more a case of trying to sew, for though she’d learned as a child to wield a needle to embroider and do other fancy-work, she certainly had never made her own clothes.
He stopped beside her, saying, “Come with me.”
Octavia glanced at Mere, who nodded. She set her partly finished green tunic aside and rose. Without speaking, he led her from the village, through the orchards and along the stream into a stand of pines. Noticing how the westering sun scarcely penetrated the thick branches, leaving them in gloom, Octavia halted in alarm.
“No fear Wind Cloud,” he said.
“What—what do you want of me?” she asked, her heart pounding.
He didn’t answer in words but reached out until his hand touched her cheek. He brushed his fingers gently over her face, pausing to trace the contours of her lips, then his hand slipped under her chin to raise it until she was forced to look into his eyes.
Slowly he leaned toward her, closer and closer. She couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. As his lips touched hers, a fire was kindled deep inside her and, involuntarily, her lips parted to taste him and draw his intoxicating, alien flavor into her mouth.
When he pulled her into his arms, she clung to him, helpless to withstand her own yearning to press herself against him as heat rose from her inner fire until it threatened to consume her...