Kissed by the glow of the evening sun the sweet gum and red oaks—the maples and dogwoods provided Joseph with a comfortable bed, and the limestone overhang protected him from the sight of anyone approaching. The cool damp air, a reminder that winter was merely a few weeks away, brought shivers to his tired body. As daylight dipped slowly behind the distant mountains, Joseph pulled his blanket around his neck. A few hours east, in a small one-room hand-hewn log cabin with a glistening fire and a warm bed was Rachel and home.
One year ago, days after their marriage, he and Rachel boarded the Abigaile and set sail from London to Virginia to settle in this new land with hopes of finding adventure and prosperity. Rachel was one of three women onboard the Abigaile, and by the time she and Joseph landed they had faced seasickness, homesickness, pirates and death. When the ocean raged and the winds howled, they warmed each other with intimacy beneath the finely stitched double-wedding ring quilt given them by Rachel’s mother. Joseph’s plans for tomorrow included Rachel and home, but for now he consoled himself by listening to the wind-rustled leaves still clinging to the autumn trees.
“I think I hear Rachel praying, ‘The Lord is my shepherd…’” his smile followed him to sleep.
As darkness turned to the blue skies of early morning, Joseph, startled by the crackling of small branches, sat up beneath the shelter of his outdoor ceiling. Light hovered over the treetops shadowing the approaching figure. He moved his right hand reaching for his bow and quiver—confident that no one could see him or he would have already been done for. Trying to control his breathing he steadied his arrow in the curve of his bow and remained silent and still. Minutes moved like hours.
Finally, the dawn surprised him with not one but two visitors. Obviously twins, each sported reddish brown hair and dark brown eyes, four legs, a fluffy white tail and white spots that had almost faded from view—no mother in sight. He laughed aloud and named them; Manahoac after the Indian tribes found in Virginia and Cherokee after the neighboring tribes to the south.
“I should have known it was not an Indian,” he spoke to Cherokee and Manahoac. “I would never have heard him coming.”
As he stepped over his makeshift bed, Joseph spread his arms wide—bow and arrow resting in his right hand. He closed his blue-gray eyes and inhaled deeply taking in the fresh morning air and the sound of the water rushing over the rocks in the nearby river. He felt alive and ready to make the last trek of his journey to Rachel and home. Without warning someone’s breath was nose to nose with him. Tranquility shattered. He understood the immediacy of life or death.
His arms settled by this side in a slow methodical rhythm. His eyes exposed the morning light to reveal a man dressed in a deerskin shirt, leggins and muskrat moccasins and wearing a beaver skin hat with his ponytail sticking through a hole in the back.
“Cherokee,” Joseph smiled.
“White man,” the Indian replied.
“Friend,” Joseph’s mind raced as he watched the unchanging expression on the Cherokee’s face—tall, erect, robust and undoubtedly willing to scalp someone. Joseph knew he could be dead and hairless within seconds.
“Adahy, lives in woods,” the Cherokee shared his name.
“Friend,” Joseph repeated and waited as Adahy looked him up and down and up and down.
“No U-na-li-i—no friend,” Adahy grunted as he reached to his side and drew a tomahawk from his deerskin belt.
Two days later William Gany, a trapper known to Joseph and Rachel, found Joseph’s scalpless body. He laid Joseph in his canoe and headed downriver. When he reached that one-room hand-hewn log cabin, he found a mound of loose soil and a planted cross under the canvas of a red oak tree—Rachel Leister 1621. By dusk Joseph, wrapped in a finely stitched double-wedding ring quilt, lay peacefully next to his beloved Rachel.
William plodded towards the riverbank— shoulders slumped and coonskin hat drooping from his weary hands. His spine tingled, and the hairs on his arms stood on end as he pulled his jacket collar up and around his ears. The whispering wind carried more than the cold. Someone was watching. He was sure.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”
“Miss Rachel,” William turned expecting to see her.
“I will fear no evil…” He sensed the presence of Joseph’s hushed voice echoing along the path of fluttering leaves.
With renewed energy, he pushed the canoe away from the bank settling one dripping boot after the other; paddling through the shallows and away from the rocks. His heart ached. Sadness tried to settle in but William refused it, and Rachel and Joseph’s duet soon became a comforting trio heard downriver by the critters of the forest and one bewildered Cherokee.
“For Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me…”
© Joyce Powell