Author's Note: This is a work of fiction. While it is based on actual historical events and some of the characters are historic or mythic figures, the plot and characterization are original fantasy, pulled from the author's admittedly warped mind. The history and myths of the lost colony of Roanoke were given only cursory study prior to the writing of this story and I apologize for any historical and cultural inaccuracies. I do not intend to contribute to the Xena-fication of history. Comments and criticism are always welcome. This story is authorized for posting on www.storiesonline.net to be downloaded for individual enjoyment. Publication in any other form or on any other site without written permission of the author is strictly prohibited.
Chief Amateo, ruler of the people, breathed in the bitter-sweet smoke, then passed the pipe to all the assembled elders of the tribe to begin the council. After many days of feverished sleep induced by the herbs of foreseeing, the shaman had awoken and asked his leader to call a council immediately. The tribe was in great danger.
"Elders of my people" said the shaman, when Amateo indicated that he should speak. "I have seen the days and years to come, even to the end of the world. The strange, pale tribe that has come from across the sea is not a friend to the people. Indeed, within but seven generations, all of the people will be dead by their hands."
The council murmured, most in disbelief. The shaman was wise, but the pale tribe was so weak and foolish. There were many more of the people than of this tribe. True, they had strange, frightening weapons, but the tribe were like children. They did not know what plants were good to eat, what herbs cured sickness, what water was good to drink. Many of them had died in the year since they had come to the island. Most of the elders believed that the pale tribe would die out or return to their homeland before long.
"But these are only the first!" exclaimed the shaman. "More will come--many more. They will come with their 'guns' and they will come with their lies, but worst of all, they will come with their sickness. The pale tribe brings with them a great sickness that will kill the people and leave the pale tribe to dance on the graves of the people. Even if we kill all the pale ones that are here now, more will come until the people are no more. The great people will be destroyed by these foolish, evil men."
Again the elders murmured. The pale tribe's warriors they could fight, but who can fight sickness? At last the chief spoke.
"Wise shaman, is there nothing we may do that the people may survive?"
The shaman stared for a long time into the fire. He knew he was about to awaken a great evil, but why had the knowledge been passed down to him, if not for just such a purpose--to save his people.
"There is a way." said the old man. "The people must mix their seed with the pale tribe. The pale women confer upon their children protection against the great sickness that their tribe brings. Only by making their children our children may the people survive."
The elders murmured once again. It was common to take the women of an enemy tribe, but these women were strange. They covered all of their flesh with cloth. Surely they must wish to cover their ugliness. And then there was the men with their strange guns. The elders did not doubt that the warriors of the people could defeat them, but still many would die. Men fight more fiercely when their women are taken from them.
"The spirits have shown me a way." said the shaman above the din. "We can take their women and they will willingly take our seed and bear us many children. Not one warrior of the people will die, not one man of the pale tribe will live. I will use the ancient knowledge, and the pale tribe will be ours to do with as we like."
The elders at last were silent. There were many tales of the ancient knowledge and the evils that had been done with it. But at times it was necessary. How else would the people survive? They pledged to be guided by the shaman, and Chief Amateo closed the council.
Caroline Madison was in a waspish mood. Today was the first anniversary of her arrival in this god-forsaken wilderness. Her husband, Matthew, had convinced her that if they joined up with Sir Walter Raleigh in this mad scheme, that within only a few years they would have gold enough to live a life of leisure. So here she was in the muggy heat being attacked by insects on Roanoke island, without any hint that her situation would ever change. Raleigh himself had never even set foot on the island, while the leader of the colony, John White, had returned to England after only a month, 'for supplies'. They had heard nothing from civilized people since. They had little food, had found none of the promised gold, and were surrounded by godless savages. And after bringing her to this hell on earth, Matthew had the gall to suggest she fulfill her marital duties, when he had so obviously completely failed in his. She made it clear to him that as long as she was on this island, she would never again share his bed. She would not bear children in this horrible place.
They hadn't discussed it (a proper Christian wouldn't) but Caroline suspected that her fellow wives had taken a similar vow of celibacy. Most of the colonists were young couples, yet only Eleanor Dare, wife of the current colony governor, had borne a child in the time they had been there, and she had left England already pregnant. Little Virginia Dare was the first English child born in the new world, and if Caroline had anything to say about it, she would be the last!
There was a gathering at the western boarder of the colony. Caroline went a little closer to see that a small group of the half-naked savages talking with several of the men of the colony. She had seen these particular natives before. One of them she found more disturbing than the others. He had somehow managed to learn the Queen's English, or at least a perverse mockery of it. He was always staring at her and calling to her in his strange accent. He called her 'Yellow Hair' and seemed obsessed with her golden locks. He had actually asked her to let him touch it! The very idea! She had given him, and all of the red men, wide berth ever since.
The English-speaking one, he called himself Wachea she recalled, suddenly looked up directly at her as if he had felt her gaze. He smiled broadly. There was something in the smile that froze her heart. The colony men followed the red man's gaze. One of the men was Matthew, and seeing his wife he waved and came towards her. She was glad of the distraction from that horrid smile.
"Caroline" said Matthew when he reached her, "The natives have fish and vegetables that they want to trade. Ananias suggested that maybe they would be interested in crystal. Help me fetch the wine goblets."
Fleeing her unease at the smiling Indian, she embraced her earlier anger.
"The Governor can go soak his head, and you can join him. We've given them enough. At this rate, we won't have anything left from England by Christmas. You're a fool, Matthew! A worthless fool who is going to sell our birthright for a mess of potage! Well I won't stand for it anymore!"
"Please, Caroline! We need to eat! Governor White will return soon with everything we could want or need. Until then, we have to make do with what we have. You know how gullible these savages are. We can probably get enough food to feed the entire colony for a week with just one wine goblet. It's our turn to contribute barter. If we don't, there will be trouble with the other colonists. If I can work a good deal with them, they'll all be grateful to us."
They argued for a while, but at last Caroline acquiesced. Mostly because she herself was starting to feel hungry, and she knew how paltry dinner would be if she had to rely on Matthew and the other incompetents to provide. She brought four of the leaden crystal goblets and grudgingly gave them to her husband, who then brought them to the fish-bearing natives. Caroline saw from afar that the natives were very impressed with her wine goblets--as well they should be. Then Wachea looked up at her again, held up a crystal cup, and nodded with a smile. Caroline gasped and fled to her wooden house, feeling very warm.
There were seventy settlers left of the original 110 who came to Roanoke. Illness, snakes and alligators had taken their toll. The remaining seventy had taken to eating their evening meal together. In the July heat, they preferred to brave the insects and eat outside, sitting together at long wooden tables in the fort in the center of the colony. Tonight, they ate a rich fish stew, made collectively in a large pot over a central fire. It was much better than what they had eaten recently, and a good mood settled over the colonists. There was laughter and casual talk for the first time in weeks. Slowly, the laughter and chatter died down. Caroline turned to Matthew to tell him something, and saw that he was staring into his empty bowl with a vague smile on his face.
"Matthew, look at me when I talk to you!" she said.
He slowly looked up at her, the same odd smile on his face. Caroline had forgotten what she was going to tell him. It didn't seem important. She took another spoonful of soup, but didn't put it in her mouth. The fish floating there in the broth seemed so strange. Fascinating, really. She stared at it as the broth slowly dripped into her lap. She smiled.
The sun had set when at last something else caught her attention. It was a voice. A vaguely familiar voice.
"English! Look at me!" Caroline looked to see that Wachea was the speaker. With him was an old, heavily-tattooed man bearing a staff, and the four men of the watch who had taken their dinner and gone to man the fortifications. Behind them were two score of the young, half-naked savages. That was unusual, thought Caroline. There weren't supposed to be that many Indians in the colony, especially after nightfall. She passively wondered why they were here. Wachea had told her to look at him. She should look at him. He would explain. He was smiling at her. It was a nice smile, thought Caroline. A very nice smile.
The old man spoke to Wachea. He had a nice voice, thought Caroline, but she didn't understand what he was saying. At last, Wachea spoke again. Caroline was glad.
"English! Listen to me!" spoke the young Indian. "The men must come and stand before the wise man! The women must stay!"
Caroline saw Matthew get up and join the other men of the colony before Wachea and the old man. That was good, thought Caroline. That was as it should be. The old man made strange gestures at the men, almost like a blessing, then he nodded to his young companion.
"Men of the English," spoke Wachea in a loud voice. "This is not your home! Your home is across the sea! You must go to your home! Go to your Great Woman across the water! Swim to your home!"
All the men cheerfully turned and strolled casually out of the colony towards the ocean. They were going home. How nice, thought Caroline. It was good to go home. But Wachea had said that the women should stay. She continued to watch the fascinating young native.
"Women of the English!" shouted Wachea, "Listen to me! You must come and stand before the wise man!"
Caroline cheerfully got up. She liked to do what she was told. Wachea knew what she needed to do. She was glad that he told her. She stood before the old man with the fascinating tattoos. Beside her was Eleanor Dare, holding her baby daughter.
The old man spoke again to Wachea in that strange, beautiful tongue. Wachea stepped towards her, smiling, but then turned to Eleanor.
"Woman" he said to the young mother "Give your baby to the wise man! He will care for her. You have much to do this night. The wise man can care for your baby. He is good."
Eleanor handed the child over to the old man. He took her very gently with a sad look on his face and cradled her in his arms. How good he is, thought Caroline. It is very nice of him to care for little Virginia. He spoke once more to Wachea, and then to the other natives. Wachea stepped towards her once again and retrieved from the leather pouch at his waist the crystal goblet that her husband had given to him only this morning. He handed it to her and said "Take!" He was giving it back to her! How very nice! She stared at the goblet with fascination, vaguely noticing that the other young natives were giving each of the women a cup or bowl. Then two of the young men filled her goblet with a black liquid from a leather flask. She stared at the strange black liquid, not knowing what to do with it. At last Wachea told her.
"Drink, women of the English! Drink!" he shouted, louder than ever.
She drank the black liquid. It was very bitter, but she swallowed every drop, then she stared into the empty cup. In time, she looked up when the old man pounded his staff against the ground three times. He gestured at them with the staff, holding the baby in his other arm, then raised the staff over his head and shouted out a single word.