Nipmuc Praying Village Short Stories
Copyright © 2017 by Lisa Shea / Minerva Webworks LLC
All rights reserved.
Cover design by Lisa Shea.
Book design by Lisa Shea
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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That the Heathen People amongst whom we live, and whose Land the Lord God of our Fathers hath given to us for a rightfull Possession, have at sundry times been plotting mischievous devices against [Massachusetts colonists], no man that is an Inhabitant of any considerable standing, can be ignorant.
~ Increase Mather, 1676
Sutton, Massachusetts. 1675.
Prudence fanned her face, the humid August air steaming her through both her black cotton dress and the white cotton shift beneath. The wagon seat pressed hard beneath her bottom and the jostling of the past five hours wearied her beyond measure. Her father often boasted that she had been accompanying him on his missionary trips from the moment she left the cradle some seventeen years ago. Still, her body ached all the same by the end of a long day.
A few tendrils of her light brown hair had come loose; she absently tucked them back beneath her white cap. Then she looked over to her father with fondness. His shoulders were hunched; his fingers thin where they clutched the reins leading to Arah, their trusty oak-brown steed. Minister Lockwood’s black wool jacket with its white bib-collar were both impeccably clean. His dark hair was streaking to grey and was trimmed close in a neat bowl shape.
He caught her gaze and turned to nod at her. His voice was gentle, with the melodious lilt which had drawn so many non-believers to his sermons of salvation everlasting. “Not much further, Prudence. The praying village is just up around the corner. We will be safe there.”
Prudence forced a smile on her lips, although tension wrapped her thin frame. When her parents had first begun ministering there was relative peace in central Massachusetts. Husband, wife, and young daughter had been warmly welcomed by the Nipmuc tribe which peppered their settlements throughout the rolling hills and shimmering lakes. Through persistence her father had even converted a few of the bands into praying villages – groups of Christianized natives who often adopted English-style clothing and language.
Her eyes moved over the shadows of dense oak and birch, pine and maple which edged the thin wagon trail. Fear crept in to her tone. “It is not the Nipmuc I am worried about, Father.”
He nodded, his lips dropping. “The Wampanoag are indeed in a state of fury. I do not know what those fools at Plymouth Colony were thinking. They treated the great sachem Metacomet as a child, chipping away at his land and passing it around like maple-candy sweets to his rival tribes. Of course Metacomet’s honor would not allow this to continue. And when his father mysteriously fell ill after a negotiation, and died …”
Minister Lockwood shook his head. “War. Brutal war. Just when we were making good progress with bringing these heathens into God’s light.”
Prudence nodded. “Mother would always say, Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the Earth; For I am God, and there is no other.”
Her father’s eyes gleamed bright for a moment, and she could almost see the years rewinding. Back to when her mother was alive, a full six years ago, and they were happy, so happy …
The shine faded and his gaze dropped to the weathered reins. “Some may now be beyond saving,” he murmured. “The Wampanoag are enraged and have drawn many other tribes in to support them. They burned Swansea and killed innocents. They attacked Mendon. Dartmouth. Other colonists who once supported the natives have no choice but to defend themselves. There is no middle ground any more.”
The wagon came up over a rise in the hill.
The trees opened up before them, revealing the clearing.
Prudence’s mouth gaped open in horror.
The last time they had visited, in the bright promise of spring, this land had held a beautiful village. The structures had presented a medley of traditional and new. There had been serene dome-shaped wigwams layered with bark alongside a collection of sturdy log cabins. Children had sprawled in the grass, reaching for speckled caterpillars or grabbing up handfuls of clover. Women clustered in the shade of tassel-strewn maple, weaving beautiful blankets. A central fire pit crackled with life, a wild pig turning slowly above it, the luscious scent making her stomach rumble. And Askuwheteau’s dark eyes had risen to hers –
Her throat went dry and she leapt from the wagon to the ground. She called out in panic, “Askuwheteau!”
She had practically grown up with him. As youth they had fished in the lake, bringing up pumpkinseed and bass. Askuwheteau had taught her archery; how to remain stock-still while a stag tentatively sniffed the air. In return she had patiently trained him in English, even teaching him how to write.
And as they grew toward adulthood –
Her legs could barely hold her up. Her desperate cry carried high over the destroyed village. “Askuwheteau!”
Her father’s voice was hoarse. “Prudence, no –”
She raced down toward the blackened ruins, her heart hammering against her ribs. There was no smoke rising from the charred remains of the nearest wigwam. No sign that the blackened heap which had once been a cabin had been ferreted through either by attacker or survivor. It was just a wasteland … a wasteland …
She stumbled to a stop before the cacophony of wood and ash which had once been Askuwheteau’s new home. She still remembered the pride which shone in his dark eyes as he presented it to her, only a few months ago –
She desperately dove into the rubble, throwing aside crisped bark and handfuls of soot. There was nothing … no bodies …
Wild relief filled her, and she spun to stride out toward the central fire pit. “It’s empty! He’s not there!”
Her father carefully guided Arah down the slope and pulled up at the center of the ruin. He took up his staff and walked over to another burnt-out shell. He somberly swept through it and then nodded. “Nothing here, either. Our friends may have been fortunate. Perhaps the raiding party was spotted at a distance and there was enough time to flee.”
Prudence’s heart lifted. “There is a reason Askuwheteau has his name. He keeps watch. His father boasts he can hear a hawk from a mile away. I imagine Askuwheteau was the one who sounded the alarm.”
There was a noise from the woods, and they froze.
Nothing … nothing …
A shape emerged from the shadows.
Prudence’s heart overflowed with joy. “Askuwheteau!”
He stood there, tall and lean, dressed in a tan cotton tunic over buckskin leggings. Finely embroidered moccasins, made by his late mother, were on his feet. His dark hair fell past his shoulders.
But it was his eyes which held her. Eyes that were dark, deep, and steady on her own.
She ran to him, laughing, and he drew her close into his arms. She could barely get the words out. “You’re all right! Oh, Askuwheteau, you’re all right!”
“Yes, we are all safe, dear Prudence,” he reassured her, his head coming down to rest on her forehead for a long moment. “It is you and your father I have been concerned about. It is not safe for you to be on the road.”
Her father clutched his staff with pride. “I am an ordained minister. None would dare to harm me!”
The shadowed look in Askuwheteau’s eyes showed his lack of matching belief. He stepped apart from Prudence and waved a hand toward the destruction. “I have heard that within your own colonies men – and women – are flogged or imprisoned for even minor infractions against the will of the community. What if those leaders now feel that helping the Nipmuc is treason?”
Her father’s gaze flared at the suggestion. “Nonsense! Of course we can help you. You are Christians!”
“And yet we are still not English,” pointed out Askuwheteau. “There are many who would have us all killed outright so that your continued expansion meets no resistance.”
Her father’s eyes sharpened. “Those fools at Plymouth Colony who hung those Wampanoag started this whole mess. They’ll send us all to the very gates of Hell.”
Askuwheteau glanced around the destroyed village. His voice was rough. “We may already have arrived.”
He looked again to her father. “We must get to safety. But we cannot take the wagon. You must leave it here for the night.”
Her father’s mouth pursed, but Prudence knew well that there was no way to reach any other settlement before full dark fell. Marlborough, another praying village which held a mix of colonists and Pennacook natives, was a full twenty-five miles to the northeast. And to remain out alone while raiders were near was sheer folly.
At last her father reluctantly nodded.
Together the two men unhitched Arah and saddled him. Her father turned to Prudence. “Up you go, my dear.”
She shook her head. She searched for phrasing which would let her worn-down father mount without hurting his pride. “I’m afraid I am quite sore from sitting throughout our long journey, Father. I am not as sturdy as you are. Please allow me to walk with Askuwheteau, to give my legs a chance to stretch.”
To her relief he did not argue further. “Of course, my dear,” he agreed, and climbed up.
Askuwheteau took one last look around the remnants of his village. Then he headed into the forest, leading the way for his two English friends.
The woods closed in around them, dark and somber. But Prudence’s heart lifted. Askuwheteau was at her side – she was safe. The soothing sound of crickets echoed in her ears as streaks of moonlight dappled through the leaves.
Askuwheteau’s gaze was shadowed and she was reminded again of the desolate scene they had just left. She drew close to Askuwheteau and softly asked, “Who attacked your village? Surely the militia would not have burned a praying village.”
His eyes continually scanned the depths of the forest as they walked. “No. It was a neighboring tribe. One which had been jealous of our fine fields and our access to the lake.”
Prudence nodded. Tussling between the various tribes and sub-tribes was a constant in the region. It was how they made their claim on the best hunting grounds and planting fields.
Askuwheteau’s eyes were steady. “I am sure that part of the attack on us was, indeed, due to Metacomet’s war against the English. The raiders were upset that we have left the true way of our ancestors. They turn on us because we have chosen to understand that Great Spirit is equally named God and that there are ways to respect him which we did not previously know of.”
His shoulders lifted in a soft shrug. “But I think they were equally motivated by a desire to clear us off our traditional summer grounds. This chaos gave them an excuse to ensure, in the years to come, that they had control over the lush fields and fertile soil.”
Prudence could barely put breath to her question. “Was anybody hurt?”
He shook his head. “No. I spotted the raiders when they were on the far side of Lake Manchaug. There was ample time to gather the children and to move all to safety.” His eyes shadowed. “But not all are now with us. Several of the men have gone south to join up with Metacomet. They fear this fighting of tribe-against-tribe will doom us all. They feel the only way to ensure our survival is to drive the English out for good.”
Prudence’s heart fell. “The English will never leave,” she told him. “We are not like you. You create a camp for winter hunting, then leave that behind to set up fresh homes by your summer fields. You are used to moving across the landscape in tune with nature.”
He chuckled and turned to look at her. “And do you not travel in that wagon of yours, from craggy hill to forest clearing, sharing your stories?”
She blushed. “I’m not like other women,” she murmured. “When we stop in at taverns I’m often treated as if I’m a half-wild heathen, despite my family’s ministry.”
He raised an eyebrow at that. “And at the same time there are some in my tribe who feel you are a pressed-tight outsider looking to erase our past.”
She gave a wry smile. “I suppose I do not fit well into either culture. I never have. I’ve always been kept at a distance by everyone.”
His hand brushed against hers, and his voice was low. “Not by me.”
Her throat closed up and she looked out into the woods. Just two weeks ago her father had brought her to the town of Dedham, south of Boston. A widowed accountant, about her father’s age, had made clear his interest in her. It had taken every skill in diplomacy she could draw on to put him off. For her heart had been caught long ago, on the banks of Manchaug, as securely as any pumpkinseed …
He glanced over, concern in his eyes. “I apologize; I did not mean to upset you.”
She kept her gaze averted. “No, no, it is all right. I have always treasured our friendship.”
Saying the word brought tightness to her throat, but there was no other way. She knew what her father would say to even the hint of an idea that she marry a native. As much as her father dedicated his life to bringing them into the fold, there was still a sharp distinction in his mind between them and us. Between the natives and a true, proper Englishman.
She gave a small smile. “I am at peace with being something of a mystery to those colonists who hide for security behind their town walls. My father’s traveling ministry means I can understand the way your tribes move across the landscape.” She sighed. “But the Nipmuc, the Wampanoag, and the other tribes are butting against colonists who treasure strong walls and sturdy houses. The English are taught that all land exists to be owned and possessed.”
His brow creased. “How can anyone lay claim to a tree? To the grass? These things come and go. They are swept away and renewed. They are part of the world around us. Can one man claim any of this? Claim all deer; all boars? Is not our world created by God for the use of whoever needs it?”
“And yet that clearing which was burned held your traditional planting grounds,” she pointed out. “You expected to be able to return there with each new spring. In a way you think of that space as yours to return to. You said yourself the other tribe drove you out, in part, to claim it for themselves. So that they could reap the benefits of its fertile soil.”
He pursed his lips. “I suppose that is true. But that is a matter between the members of the Nipmuc tribe. The stronger will stake its claim. That is our way.” His gaze shadowed. “Who are these English to come in from across the great ocean and push us all out?”
She gave a soft shrug. “You call us English, but it’s the year of our Lord 1675. The first settlers fled from England back in 1620. Many of those colonists fighting now are the grandchildren who know no other life. This is their home. Our allegiance in our mind may be with England, but our home – our heart – our life – is here.”
She glanced back at her father, riding contently on Arah. Her gaze swept to the serenity of the woods around her.
To the strong, brave warrior who walked by her side.
Twining emotion rose within her, mixing anguish and desperate dreams.
Her heart, truly, was here.
He lifted his head, looking ahead. His voice eased out of him with relief. “We are home.”
Prudence blinked. She could see it now. The faintest flicker of the glow of a campfire shone between the trees. Their steps quickened and in a few minutes they were within the shadows of the wigwams.
Gentle warmth swept through her.
There were the tribe members she had come to know so well. Eight-year-old Boy-who-laughs with his lopsided grin, dark shock of hair, and deerskin britches. The wise Morning-Dove in her crimson cotton dress and long gray hair braided down her back.
Askuwheteau’s father, the sachem Machk, came forward with his young wife, Sokw. Before Machk could speak, Sokw’s eyes flashed sharp at Askuwheteau. “You should not have risked the tribe’s safety to go for them. Your job is here. To watch over us.”
Machk serenely waved a hand toward the lake. “There was no cause for concern. My elder brother, Manchaug, drowned in this lake. His spirit remains here and watches over us all.”
Her mouth turned down. “And now you are sachem, my husband, and we must put the needs of our tribe above all else.” Her eyes shot to Prudence and Minister Lockwood. “Certainly above any English.”
Machk turned to the minister. “You must excuse my wife. The attack on our village has been quite stressful, as you can imagine.” His face took on a glow. “And we have only just learned that she is with child.”
Her hand went possessively to her abdomen, and her eyes swept challengingly to Askuwheteau.
His face went still. It was a long moment before he spoke. “So soon? But my mother was only laid in the sacred soil at the Catching Fish moon.”
Prudence wrapped her arms around herself. She remembered that chilly March day with clarity. The men had to work hard to dig out the hole to lay Askuwheteau’s mother to rest. Given how tenaciously the woman had fought to live, all through the long months of her illness, it had seemed a fitting tribute.
Machk nodded, his eyes shining with pride. “Great Spirit has blessed our new family.”
Prudence’s father spoke. “You mean God, of course.”
Machk’s gaze was peaceful. “Great Spirit is God.”
Her father opened his mouth –
Prudence gently took her father by the arm. “These people have just been through a great scare, and they are probably exhausted from having to build a fresh set of wigwams from scratch. Come, let us find a place to hobble Arah. And you must be starving.”
He relented and followed along behind her as she brought the horse to the far edge of the clearing. Prudence brushed Arah down while her father removed the saddle and bridle. Together they cleaned those in the lake. At last those chores were settled and they moved back to the edge of the campfire.
Morning-Dove made a place for them and handed across two wooden bowls with beans. “Thanks to Askuwheteau’s warning we were able to bring nearly all of our supplies with us. Thank God that we had finished much of the harvest before the attack. We will be able to move to our winter hunting grounds and be safe there.”
Prudence took a spoonful of her beans. They were delicious, seasoned with sage and pine nuts. She trusted in Morning-Dove’s wisdom and put voice to her fears. “But will anywhere be safe? Your winter grounds are a mere thirty miles west. This war is not just one of Plymouth Colony or Boston. In June the militia of those two areas swarmed all the way down to Bristol, in Rhode Island, to destroy the Wampanoag town there. Given the escalation since then, I worry that nowhere is safe.”
Morning-Dove gently waved a hand. “The issue is between those two tribes. The English of the coastline and the Wampanoags. They will resolve it through raids, as is always done, and then we will have a new peace.”
Prudence looked down at her beans. “That is not the way the English think,” she murmured. “Many who live in fine houses in Boston or Plymouth do not see you as equal rivals for land, as they might the French. They see you as …” She struggled to find words for it. “As lesser beings. As unintelligent, uneducated, inferior creatures who do not belong in the company of proper folk. They would exile you to swamplands to the far west.”
Morning-Dove stared at her for a long moment.
Then she burst out in bright laughter. The smile wreathed her face, drawing a brightness to her eyes. At last she found her breath. “But how could they think such a thing! Have they not seen our fine beadwork and our elegant weaving? Have they not heard the rich tales of our ancestors? We have been in these lands a full five hundred years, traveling up from the warmer regions to our South along a great river. We build sturdy canoes which many acclaim to be the best in the land.”
Prudence nodded. “You have good reason to be proud of your culture. Sadly, many English do not see it that way. When you talk of canoes they look at their own great sailing ships, capable of crossing large oceans. At their mirrors and magnets which allow them to navigate vast distances.”
Morning-Dove’s eyes twinkled. “What need have we for mirrors and giant ships? What would we use them for in Lake Manchaug? We have no need to sail away. Our fields of maize and bean are here. Our flocks of turkeys and herd of deer are here.”
Prudence gave a soft smile. “That is where the two cultures are so different. You have found contentment with what you have. You take only what you need and you are full of gratitude for that.” Her eyes drifted to the east, and her gaze shadowed. “The English have a different mentality. They see possession of land as a sign of power. They take in as much as they can to build up their position in their society. A wealthy merchant’s wife doesn’t want just one fine dress to wear on Sunday. She wants an entire wardrobe stuffed with fine dresses so each day she can be envied by those around her. So she can showcase how she is better than the others and take pride in her status.”
Morning-Dove’s gaze twinkled. “I hear Sokw is busily adding beads to yet another dress. She claims she needs a new one to handle her growing girth in the winter months. But I have a sense she would be working on it regardless of her condition. So perhaps our two cultures are not that different.”
Askuwheteau came over, and Morning-Dove slid so there was room between her and Prudence. “Come, lad, take a seat. You have done well these past few days. Our tribe owes you great thanks.”
His eyes shadowed as he settled himself between the two women. “I only wish we could have saved our village.”
Morning-Dove shook her head. “We would have been leaving it soon enough in any case. And we were able to save our tribe as well as our supplies. That is all that matters. Wigwams are rebuilt each year. Summer growing grounds are left; winter wigwams are renewed. It is the cycle.”
“But now the other tribe will feel that our summer grounds belong to them,” pointed out Askuwheteau. “What shall we do when spring comes around again?”
“When spring comes, we will discuss it in council then,” Morning-Dove calmly pointed out. “That will be for Great Spirit to decide.”
Prudence glanced over at her father, but he had not caught the mention of Great Spirit. Indeed, his head was drooping and his empty bowl was at an angle in his lap.
She gently took the bowl and laid it on the ground. “Father, you should get some rest. It’s been a long day.”
He blinked awake. “Yes, yes, I’ll just go prepare the wagon –”
Askuwheteau spoke up. “You and Prudence will have my wigwam for the night. In the morning I will escort you back to your wagon and you can head to Marlborough. You will be safe there.”
Her father’s brow creased. “But we have only just arrived. We are here to minister to you.”
Askuwheteau shook his head. “Now is not the time for ministering. You need to get to safety, and I need to bring my people to our winter grounds. Perhaps when the snows come it will cool the flames and bring peace again.”
He pointed to a well-built wigwam tucked at the edge of the clearing. “It is right there. Enjoy your rest.”
Minister Lockwood wearily pushed himself to standing and nodded to the group. “Rest well. Maybe God be with you.”
Murmurs and nods swept the circle, and then the older man moved off toward his shelter.
Prudence turned to Askuwheteau. “But where will you sleep?”
His gaze was shadowed. “Tonight is not a night for me to sleep, Prudence. Our tribe is now in a precarious position. The other Nipmuc seek to drive us out because we are Christians. The colonists seek to drive us out because we are Nipmuc. No, I will not rest well until we are safely nestled into our winter grounds and deep snow has blanketed the earth. Maybe then there will be peace.”
He glanced at the rising moon. “But I must head out to start my rounds. You go and be with your father. We can talk more in the morning, when I escort you back to your wagon.”
Prudence’s heart twisted. She wanted to stay with Askuwheteau, to talk with him long in the night as they used to do. But she knew he had greater responsibilities. The safety of the entire tribe depended on his sharp eye.
She bit her lip. “I just wish …”
He took her hand, his gaze holding hers. “You wish what, Prudence?”
A figure loomed above them. It was Sokw, her dark hair glistening in the firelight. “Askuwheteau. What are you doing still here? It is your duty to protect our tribe.” Her hand lowered to rest protectively over her abdomen. “Now more than ever.”
He nodded and drew to his feet. “Of course.” His gaze moved to Prudence and softened. “Rest well, chickadee.”
She blushed at the endearment. He had given her that name when they were children, when her black-and-white outfit stood out so clearly against the browns of the tribe.
Her voice was hoarse. “And you – stay safe.”
He nodded. Then he turned and slipped into the shadows. A heartbeat later and it was as if he’d never been there.
Sokw glowered down at Prudence. “You do him harm, you know,” she snapped. “He is of the age to find a wife of his own. To bolster our tribe’s numbers with more children. And yet no potential mate is ever found to be suitable. Have you any guess as to why?”
Prudence’s cheeks flared red. It had been her deepest fear, on the wagon ride here, that she would arrive to find Askuwheteau married. Tied to another with bonds which could not be broken.
To hear instead that he, like her, was resisting …
Sokw’s gaze sharpened. “The sooner you are back with your kind, the better. For your sake – and for ours.”
She turned and strode back toward her husband.
Prudence glanced around. It seemed every member of the community was now watching her. Some faces held compassion, others amusement – and some held a sterner emotion.
She awkwardly gathered up the empty bowls and brought them over to the cleaning area. That task done, she added them to the stack and slipped into Askuwheteau’s wigwam. Her father was already snoring in one corner, his thin face peaceful. Undoubtedly his prayers had brought him solace.
Prudence moved to the other side of the wigwam where Askuwheteau’s blanket was spread. She still remembered his tenth birthday when his mother had presented it to him. The pattern had faded over the years, but Askuwheteau’s good care of it had done her efforts justice.
She knelt down before it, bringing her hands to her chest. She strove to fill her thoughts with gratitude. Gratitude that the village was safe and unharmed. Gratitude that she and her father had not been caught up in the growing chaos.
Gratitude that Askuwheteau was unmarried.
She fought off the wild thought. She could not do that! Askuwheteau deserved a fine wife. One who would adore him. One who would give him strong, healthy sons and daughters –
Tears slipped down her cheeks.
She quickly brushed them away and finished her prayers. Then she lay down on her side, nestling into the blanket.
It carried the scent of him. His muskiness and leather; his pine and moss. If she could but curl up in this forever …
Someone was urgently shaking her by the arm. “Wake up, Prudence! Quickly!”
She blinked her eyes open – but still she did not see anything. The wigwam was pitch black. Only the faintest outlines of shapes presented themselves to her.
Morning-Dove’s voice resolved into recognition. “You must get up. The tribe is moving.”
Prudence wearily pushed herself to sitting. “Father?”
“He is outside talking with Machk. He is trying to convince our sachem to stay.”
Prudence could now hear the murmur of voices outside. She quickly found her feet and strode out, Morning-Dove right behind her.
The entire tribe was gathered in a shifting mass around the campfire, bags packed and carriers loaded. At the center was her father and Machk, with Sokw and Askuwheteau close at hand.
Machk shook his head. “I have heard your words of recommendation. And I appreciate the depths of your feeling. But my decision is final. We are leaving now. If you wish, you are welcome to join us.”
Sokw’s mouth turned down. “They cannot move quietly as we do! They will endanger our entire community.”
Askuwheteau’s lips pressed together. “No more than our carriers will, traversing the trail in pitch dark. And having them with us might do us well should we be encountered by the colonial militia.”
Sokw’s tone turned sharp. “We wouldn’t have this problem at all if the English had stayed where they belonged! If they had never cursed our lands with their presence!”
Machk shook his head. “It no longer matters how we have reached this point. What matters is the survival of our tribe.” He looked out across the group. “We go.”
A wave of nods followed this statement, and the gathered turned toward the west, forming into a line and delving into the forest.
Minister Lockwood pressed his staff into the ground. “Then I shall stay. I will talk with the English once they arrive here. If nothing else I can assure them that you are peaceful and should not be chased down. It will help ensure you reach your winter grounds without trouble.”
Askuwheteau’s gaze was shadowed. “The English did not seem as if they were in the mood to talk,” he warned the minister. “I believe they are on the warpath.”
Lockwood’s eyes blazed. “We do not go on the warpath! We are civilized folk.”
Askuwheteau turned to Prudence. “At least you should come with us, as your father attempts his negotiation. He can then catch up to us when he is done.”
She shook her head, moving to stand alongside her father. “I have been a part of my father’s ministry from the moment I could crawl. I will not leave his side now.”
Askuwheteau’s shoulders tensed. “If you two are going to remain –”
His father spoke over him. His voice held the tone of command. “Then, Askuwheteau, it is time you help the elderly with their packs. I want not one villager within sight or earshot by the time the English arrive here.”
Deep emotion billowed behind Askuwheteau’s dark eyes, but he nodded. “Of course, Father.”
He turned to Prudence, his jaw tight. “Be careful, Prudence. The English seem out for blood. They may not care whose it is.”
Minister Lockwood raised his staff. “I am a minister! I will talk with them and we will get this all sorted out. Just you wait and see.”
Askuwheteau gave one last, long look to Prudence. Then he turned and set into motion. It seemed a heartbeat before the last of the praying village had slipped into the deep shadows of the woods, lost wholly to sight.
The silence pressed in on Prudence. Usually in the woods there were the soft calls of the crickets; the occasional cry of a coyote. But it was as if the very Earth held its breath. The darkness lay on her like a heavy blanket, and she was suffocated … suffocated …
There. A noise.
It came from the direction of the summer grounds. Where now only the burnt-out husks of wigwams and cabins remained.
The party moved like a herd of buffalo crashing through the forest. As they approached she saw the occasional glimmer of lantern and heard the sharp swears as someone tumbled over a root or was hit by a branch. The group grew closer … louder …
A party of about fifteen stumbled into the clearing, their faces bright with satisfaction. They appeared to be farmers and shopkeeps, armed with pitchforks, knives, and a few guns. Their clothing was rough and well worn. The red-headed one spoke up. “See! I told you we’d track them down. Now we torch their homes while they sleep!”
Minister Lockwood stepped forward, his hands raised in a sign of peace. “The tribe which traveled through here is a praying village. Manchaug. They are good Christians and have not caused any harm.”
Red rounded on him. “And who are you, injun lover?”
Prudence’s father serenely nodded. He added richness to his tone, as if he were giving a Sunday sermon on brotherly love. “I am the Minister Lockwood, and these lands you travel are my pastures. I tend to my sheep here. The Manchaug are good, fine Christians. My daughter and I have been visiting them for nigh on seventeen years now. They study the Bible and believe in the Word.”
Red’s brow creased. “Those injuns are tricky folk. They claim to do this or that to lure you in. And then when your back is turned – wham! They drive a hatchet deep into your heart.”
Minister Lockwood shook his head. “My Nipmuc are not like that,” he promised. “They have good souls. They are a peaceable group.”
Red nudged his head toward a greasy-haired, thin man with long, dark hair. “Josiah here says several of your peaceable group headed south to join up with Metacomet. They were seen at the crossing.”
Prudence’s heart hammered against her ribs. Indeed, Askuwheteau had mentioned that several of the warriors had decided that fighting was the only solution.
Minister Lockwood was not perturbed. “There will always be a small divisive element in any community,” he pointed out. “That is why they are no longer with the praying village. For the village promotes peace.”
Red barked out a laugh. “Peace? From the Nipmuc? Tell that to the slaughtered at Brookfield.”
Prudence gasped. Brookfield was a regular stop for them in their travels. The tavern keeper’s wife had always been especially kind to her.
She stepped forward. “What happened in Brookfield?”
Red leered. “After the Wampanoag heathens attacked Swansea, Boston sent Curtis and his men west to meet with Muttawmp of the Nipmuc. To make sure our peace with them still held strong.” His eyes narrowed. “But Muttawmp was a lying cheat.”
Prudence could barely breathe.
Red seemed to enjoy the attention he now had. He strode forward and spread his arms, much as her father often did during his sermons. “Muttawmp deceived Curtis and said he would maintain the peace. But when Captain Hutchinson journeyed to New Norwich just two weeks later, the heathens had deserted their village. Captain Hutchinson pressed forward to where he thought the Nipmucs were.”
He paused for effect, his smile wide.
“Without warning, without cause, our forces were ruthlessly ambushed.”
Prudence staggered back and shook her head. “Maybe it wasn’t by Muttawmp’s tribe.”
Red grinned. “You would say that, you injun-lover. But those who survived the ambush retreated to Brookfield. They gathered up the townsfolk and took shelter in the strongest building in the town. It wasn’t long before Muttawmp and his gang arrived. They burned the entire town. Tried to break into the building, too, but thank God the colonists held strong. Muttawmp lay his siege for four long days before help finally arrived and scared him off.”
Prudence wrapped her arms around herself. “Was anybody in Brookfield killed?”
His teeth shone in the lamplight. “A few of ours, and more of theirs.” His gaze darkened. “We’ll make sure they learn their lesson. They’ll learn that decent, honorable folk will rise to band together and wipe them off the face of the earth.”
Her father’s face shone red. “No! We must come together in peace! This madness must stop.”
Josiah shook his gun. “This here’s the only thing those heathens understand. And we’re gonna teach them that lesson until it gets through!”
Minister Lockwood shook his head. “No. The Manchaug are Christians! They are innocent in this!”
Josiah’s eyes turned dark. “As innocent as those townsfolk in Brookfield who were under siege for four long days? As innocent as those who were slain in Swansea? There’s only one language these wolves understand, and it’s the language of blood.”
Minister Lockwood stepped forward. “I won’t let you harm my flock.”
Josiah’s rifle came up to bear. “You injun lover – what are you playing at? Are the warriors surrounding us for an ambush? Have you been stalling us for time?”
Red turned his head. “Josiah, calm down –”
Minister Lockwood’s gaze was sharp. “They are Christians, I say! They would never ambush anyone!”
Josiah’s growl filled the clearing. “Tell that to the dead in Brookfield.”
Minister Lockwood took another step forward. “As a man of the cloth, I tell you –”
There was a crunching of foot-on-branch behind the men.
Josiah spun, firing his rifle.
Panic filled Prudence’s soul. “Askuwheteau!”
Minister Lockwood staggered forward. “My God! What have you done?”
He grabbed at Josiah’s arm.
Josiah threw down his rifle and drew a hunting knife from his hip.
He drove it deep into Minister Lockwood’s chest.
Prudence’s vision became a blur of unbelieving tears. “Father!”
A shape staggered from the forest. It was large … brown …
It was Arah. Blood followed a gash in his side where the bullet had grazed him.
Her father slid to the ground, blood bubbling from around the knife. She raced to his side, dropping to her knees. “Father! Father!”
His gaze was glazed, and with one glance at the wound she knew there was no hope. He would soon be in the loving arms of his beloved wife.
Her voice cracked. “Father!”
Focus came back to his gaze. His breath eased out of him, guttural, clear, every ounce of energy behind his word.
She looked up at the men who approached her. At the darkness in their eyes.
Thank you for reading Manchaug. The next book in this series will be released soon.
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Lisa Shea was born in Maryland during the Vietnam War to a father in the Air Force and a mother who worked as a journalist. She grew up in various towns along the eastern seaboard, raised in an environment where writing and researching the past were as natural as spending weekends tromping through old-growth woods looking for stone wall foundations. Her concept of art focused on cemetery stone rubbings and photos of old homesteads.
When Lisa moved to Sutton, Massachusetts in 1995, she finally found her true home. Sutton’s rustic charm, dense forests, and bucolic farmland all resonated with her creative spirit. The stories she had been writing since she was young now had a fertile ground in which to flourish.
Manchaug is a village within Sutton, and its history arises from that Nipmuch praying village. Lake Manchaug is a place of beauty and serenity.
Half of all proceeds from this series benefit battered women’s shelters.
Lisa has published over 300 books. You can read over thirty of them for free – start here –
Be the change you wish to see in the world.
Lisa Shea in Purgatory Chasm, Sutton
Sutton, Massachusetts. 1675 Many reverends are preaching from the pulpit that the natives must be driven out. That the fertile lands of the new world are intended by God Himself for the newcomers who swarm in ever-increasing numbers from England. Prudence isn't so sure about that. She and her father have been traveling the quiet pathways of central Massachusetts for years now, spreading the good word, and their message is of peace and friendship. One of the converted "praying villages" they work with is named Manchaug, and the locals there have a special place in her heart. Especially Askuwheteau - "He keeps watch". In another world they might have fallen in love. They might even have married and raised a loving family. But this is 1675, and Christian girls simply could not do such a thing. Her father would absolutely refuse to allow it, despite all his care in saving the souls of the heathens. And so her only hope is to spend a few precious days talking with Askuwheteau during her seasonal visit. She will treasure each hour they can spend together. Her small wagon crests the hill - Manchaug is in ashes. * * * Manchaug is the first of new short story series exploring the tumultuous world of Massachusetts in the late 1600s. It examines how the tens of thousands of incoming colonists tumbled up against the existing natives with increasing chaos. These books can be read singly or as a boxed set, once I write ten of them. Some people enjoy reading as I write while others prefer to wait and binge-read in a set. The stories contain no explicit violence nor intimacy. As such, they are suitable for teens and up. Half of all proceeds from the Manchaug series benefit battered women's shelters.