Chapter 1: Sanctuary
An ambush and a rescue.
2 August, 1757
“Lie down, Alice, you look faint. Is it the sea sickness still?”
Alice Munro glanced into the mirror on the vanity. Eyes bright and rosy-cheeked, she wondered at her sister’s concern.
“After two weeks? Of course not.” Not that Alice had been the one with the sensitive stomach on their voyage to Boston—but that was neither here nor there. She lowered herself to the fainting couch but remained seated upright, smiling at her sister. “I’d like to see Duncan at once!”
“Once you’re rested. And besides,” Cora turned away to adjust her hat in the mirror. “He asked that we have tea alone.”
Well, that explained all of the fretting.
“Is anything amiss?”
Alice watched her sister don her gloves in silence. She wished Cora would confide in her as other sisters did. Being four years her elder, Cora had treated Alice with maternal affection for as long as she could remember. Now eighteen years of age, Alice was starting to realize that may never change. While they each held each other dearest amongst all they knew, it seemed there would always be a certain distance between them.
Alice wondered how their relationship would have been different if her mother hadn’t died. But perhaps Cora’s staunch guardedness was simply a trait she had inherited from her own mother, and the sisters’ dispositions would simply be as different as Cora’s dark hair was to Alice’s blonde.
Cora turned and walked to the door. “Shall I have tea sent up?”
“No, thank you.”
Alice reclined against the couch and waited. As she stared up at the ceiling, she wondered at Cora’s hesitancy to marry Duncan. He was a remarkably handsome man with a spotless reputation. He headed a landed estate near their father’s, and his early promotion to Major attested to his loyalty, competency, and bravery. Above all, Alice knew that Duncan simply adored Cora. He always had.
Once Cora’s footsteps echoed down the hall, she sprung to her feet and donned her hat and gloves. Alice exited the patroon’s house via the front door and stationed herself behind a corner with a good view of the farm and of the romantic setup Duncan had prepared. With laundry flapping in the breeze, it was a far cry from the gardens of London, yet it was the most romantic location on the estate that he could possibly place a tea table.
Alice smiled sadly. Poor, sweet man.
Witnessing Cora’s concerned expression and Duncan’s heartbroken shock, Alice flounced over. She greeted Duncan with genuine enthusiasm then began prattling with little heed to her own words. Forefront in her mind was the relief that her face didn’t flame with mortification; her childhood infatuation had ended in the time she had last seen him. As she accepted tea and sat in Duncan’s own chair, she felt with triumph that her interruption had been attributed to girlishness, and the two were smiling again.
“Relax your grip, and choke up on the stick.” Uncas held out his own lacrosse stick so the young boy could follow his example.
Uncas tossed the ball to him again. When James Cameron managed to catch it this time, he gasped with delight. Uncas grinned and prepared for him to toss the ball back.
Instead, the boy bolted around Uncas with a whoop.
“You dog!” Uncas made a mock lunge for him, causing James to jerk away and keep running for the goal.
“Come back!” Uncas called after him, laughing. “You dropped the ball!”
A crowd of children swarmed over the object in question and Uncas relinquished his stick to one. Catching his father’s gaze, he nodded and retrieved his shirt. He tugged his dark hair over the collar, adjusted his belt and knife, then headed over to him.
“No! Let’s keep playing.” James waved his stick at Uncas.
Uncas shook his head and bent down to ruffle his hair. “Skins aren’t going to sell themselves. Got to keep moving.”
James scuffed the ground dejectedly. Uncas studied him, then snatched the boy around the waist and suspended him upside down. James shrieked with laughter and swung his stick around wildly. Receiving a beating to his legs, Uncas had to lower the boy back down in defeat.
James scrambled to his feet. “Can I come with?”
Uncas shrugged. “Depends.”
“How much I could get for your hide.”
James shrieked again and ran into the cabin while Chingachgook laughed.
Once Nathaniel had the horse loaded up with their pelts, they made their farewells. It hurt Uncas to say goodbye to the Camerons—especially the children. He knew it was likely the last time he would see them.
It could not be helped. The land of his ancestors was getting trapped out and the war had no end in sight. If they wanted to survive, they needed to keep moving.
They would make their way to Schuylerville and sell their skins first thing in the morning. Then, they were headed west.
With a sinking heart, Alice watched her sister release Duncan’s arm. Cora hurried to pat the Narragansett’s neck with uncharacteristic interest, placing it between herself and the Major.
Although both wore determined smiles and acted with the utmost decorum, the uneasiness had returned. It would be another long day of forced cheerfulness on all their parts, but at least they would see Papa by the end of it.
Alice grasped for something to say.
“I couldn’t sleep a wink last night for all the excitement.”
Grinning, she released Duncan’s other arm and reached up for the pommel, nearly bouncing on her toes.
“Indeed, I don't think you need my assistance, Alice. You’re about to leap into the saddle yourself.”
“The sooner to see Papa!”
Smiling, Duncan knelt to the ground and hoisted Alice up. She adjusted her skirts as he assisted Cora, then mounted his own horse as the company set out.
Alice’s heart beat in triple time to the marching tattoo. Now that they were setting out for Fort William Henry at last, her nerves were beginning to get the better of her. She had paid little heed to the sordid tales of the colonies as told in England. She knew them to be embellished, but there was little comfort in only knowing what little knowledge one had.
When her father had sent for them, Alice had attempted to rectify this failing. She read books on the Americas and its inhabitants, but vague drawings of red men and facts on burial customs, while interesting, had little practical value.
A sudden flash of movement at her heels caused Alice to give a startled jump. It was the first Indian she had seen so close. Blushing at her jitteriness, she watched him curiously. She decided that he must be the scout Duncan had mentioned. It wasn’t until she saw his eyes that her blood ran cold.
The man looked at her sister with what could only be described as utter contempt. Shocked, Alice froze. What in the world had Cora done to earn such a slight?
When the scout’s gaze met hers, her eyes widened. She wanted nothing more than to shrink away and hide. His own expression had not changed.
Yet just as suddenly as he had appeared, he turned away and kept walking towards the front of the line.
“Duncan, who is that man?”
Oblivious to the proceedings, Duncan turned to her, then forward once more to see the Indian’s retreating back.
“That’s our Mohawk guide, by the name of Magua.”
“I don’t like him.”
Her sister’s rebuke nearly made her flinch again, but she sat up straight with resolution.
“Did you see the way he looked at us, Cora? It was wrong.”
Cora only sighed. Frustrated, Alice turned forward to Duncan beseechingly.
“Call him back, please. I would like to hear him speak.” At his incredulous look, she added, “It would put me at ease.”
Duncan shook his head. “He’s not one for speech I’m afraid. And anyway, your father sent him to guide us. Do you not trust his judgment?” As he said this last part, he gave Cora a sidelong glance.
Of course Alice trusted Papa. Torn, she met Cora’s distainful eyes.
“Really, Alice. Should we distrust this man because his manners are not our manners, and his skin is dark?” (1)
Alice gaped and felt her face flush.
“Of course that’s not… I mean to say…”
Cora gave her horse a light cut of the whip and trotted ahead to catch up with the company, with Alice reluctantly following after.
Exhausted, Alice paid little heed to Magua as he walked down the line that afternoon. She wished she had slept better the night before. And why had she waited to ask to stop until Cora noticed her fatigue? She strove to prove competent on horseback; now her pride would leave her nothing to show for it but to fall from the saddle.
The first shot did not concern her. With the naivety of one who had never seen war, she assumed it to be a misfire. The following volleys froze her in the saddle. Distantly, she was aware they were under attack. She fought to keep her mind working.
What was next? Control the horse. Make sure Cora was okay. What could she do? She could not fight. Should they run? Where was safety?
As the horse threw her she cried out for her sister in fear and apology. She landed in a heap on the ground, defeated, and raised her eyes to the carnage. Now she understood it for what it was.
Terror replaced shock. There was so much blood, enough to drown the world. The company was being butchered before her eyes.
Dimly, Alice was aware of her sister’s arms around her. She held on tight to Cora and froze in place. What could they do? Nothing but wait for death. More than anything, she ached for Cora. As Alice had come into this world drenched in her mother’s life’s blood, she would leave it drenched in her sister’s.
She looked up at Cora’s shout, gasping. Her face tingled in the way it did when she forgot how to breathe.
“In case your aim’s any better than your judgment.”
Upon hearing the stranger’s snide remark, she realized the fighting was over. They were still alive. How?
She stumbled to her feet and clutched Cora to her side. Three Indians approached; their unthreatening posture identified them as saviors. At once, the fear sapped out of her.
One caught her regard as he walked past them. Without understanding it, she knew his intention. She extricated herself from Cora and ran to intercept the man—but too late. He ran the horses off with a shout.
“Stop it, stop it! We need them to get out!”
He grabbed her as she attempted to run after them and held her securely by the arms. Startled, yet feeling no fear, she looked up into his dark eyes to meet his challenge. When she found none, she stumbled back in surprise. His silent consideration seemed only to reflect her own curiosity. He turned away; the moment passed.
“Why is he loosing the horses?”
Alice recognized Duncan’s belligerent tone as the one he got when he was losing control.
“Too easy to track. They’ll be heard for miles. Find yourself a musket.”
She listened intently to the man’s words and felt her heart seize. It wasn’t over—they would be tracked and they needed to be armed. What kind of ruthless creatures would hunt down two women and a single officer?
As the fear began to press in on her again it drowned out the words around her. Vaguely she understood that they would escort her to the Fort, and her panic receded to a manageable alarm. If anyone was able to protect them in this wilderness, it would be these three strange men who saved them from certain death.
And Duncan, she amended guiltily.
Soon after starting out, Uncas drifted behind the others, glancing around every so often for signs of pursuit or other tracks. To this end he would disappear off the path to investigate before returning to the main group to start the process over again. Thus far he hadn’t learned much; a mountain lion had crossed by earlier this morning and a small group of colonial militia had cut through the forest yesterday, headed north.
Uncas made his way back to the group as they reached the river. The yellow-haired girl was trailing behind the others, eyes straying to the water. His interest piqued as she cast a furtive glance to those ahead and began tugging off her gloves. One at a time, she tossed the gloves into the swift current. Almost as an afterthought, she reached up to tear her cap off and throw it in as well. Turning, she followed its progress as it tumbled along and became swallowed by the water.
She looked up at Uncas and stilled, eyes wide like a doe sensing danger. Yet it wasn’t the frozen terror of prey with nowhere left to run, as he had seen in her on the road—simply a cautious awareness. As he continued to approach she quickly glanced away, cheeks reddening.
“For protection,” she said, looking out over the river, then her bare hands. “In Scotland, they say that water is guarded by spirits. It’s a silly superstition.”
She smoothed down her skirt self-consciously and started after the others.
She turned. “Pardon?”
He rummaged through his pack for the three New York pence he had lifted from a dead Huron. At her questioning gaze, he held the coins out in an open palm for a moment before tossing them into the water.
He preferred pieces of eight over colonial currency anyway.
He thought he caught a shy smile as she turned again to continue after the others. Assuming his role as rear guard, Uncas remained vigilant, but his eyes kept drifting to the yellow-haired girl.
Soon they approached the falls. She paused in her ascent to observe them, her face softening. Was her mind still on spirits, or did she wonder at the beauty to be found in a world so full of horror? But, he supposed he was merely attributing his own brooding thoughts to hers.
Having decided that they were out of danger, the Major began his interrogation of Nathaniel. It seemed he was determined to argue over things he didn’t know: Huron war captains and colonial militia. He was a fish out of water.
“There is a war on, how is it that you are headed west?”
“Well we faced to the north and real subtle-like, turned left.”
Uncas’s mouth quirked. Nathaniel’s rejoinder would not gain them any favors, but it wouldn’t stop him from enjoying it.
“England does not protect me and does not war against France on our account. She uses us to war against France on her own account... of greed for land and furs.” Nathaniel turned back to the Major. “Clear it up any?”
“I owe you gratitude or I'd call you out!”
“Do not let gratitude get in the way.”
Furious, the Major made for his sword. The dark-haired girl (Miss Cora Munro, apparently) grabbed his arm, stopping him only because Chingachgook appeared before them. Uncas suspected if not for his father, she would have gladly helped cut Nathaniel down.
“Yengeese no good in woods. Make more noise, I kill him.”
Chingachgook’s threat did not mollify Cora and Major’s anger, but they at least had the sense to remain silent. The yellow-haired girl’s eyes widened in fright, as if she thought his father might actually kill the Major. Though, Uncas supposed if his shouting continued to threaten their safety, he very well might.
After glaring at Nathaniel’s back for a time, Cora returned to the yellow-haired girl’s side.
“Alice. I’m sorry. We should have listened to you about the guide.”
Alice just smiled at her sadly and squeezed her arm as if to say, what’s done is done. Though the words had been quietly spoken, the rest of the group heard them. Nathaniel turned a scathing look at the Major, who said nothing, though his neck turned red.
As the Major stepped back to walk with Cora, Alice began drifting behind the others until she was alongside Uncas. From the corner of his eye, he noticed her glance at him and look away. He waited. As if she managed to summon the courage, she turned to him again.
“What tribe are you affiliated with, sir?”
He glanced at her, surprised at the formal address though his face remained impassive. She seemed to be afraid of his answer. Despite his father’s warning about noise, he decided her quiet words were safe to engage.
“And have the Mohicans made no alliances in this war?”
“None, miss. You’re looking at the last of us.” He added a sweeping gesture to include the men at the front of the group.
“Oh.” She glanced at Nathaniel and Chingachgook with solemnity and a bit of the confusion he recognized from those trying to place white skin in an Indian family. Instead of voicing the question, she made an unexpected comparison. “You’re like Charles Stuart.”
He supposed he should get used to being surprised by this unusual girl. At the question in his eyes, she smiled sadly and glanced away.
“A prince in exile.”
As one, Cora and the Major turned looks of incredulity on the girl, while Nathaniel laughed.
“Prince of made beaver, maybe.”
Alice blushed, but her smile now met her eyes. It fell away as she noticed the other Yengeese’s expressions.
Nathaniel took the opportunity to raise his eyebrows in a teasing leer for only Uncas to see.
“I didn’t mean anything by it, of course, he is a pretender, after all.” The girl looked as though at any moment she would be charged with sedition. Realizing her new gaff, she turned imploring eyes on Uncas. “Not that you’re a pretender, sir, that is—”
“I beg your pardon?”
He smiled. “My name is Uncas.”
The Major’s back stiffened.
“Munro,” she amended hastily.
They finished introductions in the group before lapsing into a more comfortable silence. Although Uncas had enjoyed his brother’s expostulations, he was relieved that tensions had now eased somewhat.
It was not to last.
This was a lesson learned all too often on the frontier: when all is calm, disaster strikes. The moment Uncas smelled the smoke, he realized it was inevitable.
Chingachgook had already picked up his pace in front of them. Uncas exchanged a look of alarm with Nathaniel, and the two hurried ahead of the others to follow in their father’s wake.
Uncas had witnessed much bloodshed in his life. Yet looking on the burnt ruins of the Cameron homestead, he was completely unprepared. Alexandra lay sprawled out on the earth, eyes staring ahead vacantly. He tentatively reached out to touch her, as if afraid he might hurt this young mother—but of course, she was beyond all hurts now. Grasping her shoulder, he willed her to be at peace, and his thoughts strayed to John and the children.
The dread was a heavy pit in his stomach as he rounded the cabin, but he had to check, to make sure. He did not linger over the bodies over the children he had played with two days before; he did not want to know how long they had suffered before death relieved them. He paused, rooted in the memory of two nights’ past.
Young James had asked Uncas if he would have a boy like him.
“No, you’re too strong. Make me grow old too fast.”
Uncas had been joking, of course. Because he did want a child like him. More than one, if he could. The pride and joy he had seen on the Camerons’ faces had driven home his desire to start a family—but not here.
It was this place that aged him. He wondered how far west he would have to go to escape all of this heartache. Perhaps never far enough.
Uncas forced himself to stop and think—to maintain self-control. That was how they survived. What happened here? He was surrounded by valuable goods. Nothing had been taken; it was simply murder.
He carefully stepped around James’s body to exit the cabin, unable to look at the Yengeese. The trio stood a respectful distance away, staring in horror at what was left of Alexandra and James. He was grateful for the space. Aside from the obvious practicalities of keeping their tracks away, he couldn’t stand to speak to any of them when his heart was this raw with pain.
He crouched down to consult with his family, gripping his rifle for support. They determined conclusively that it was another war party—Ottawa and French. That done, it was time to move. Even without the Yengeese, they would not hunt the murderers down, though it pained them not to. With this much activity in these woods, safety for the night was paramount. Tomorrow they could inform their friends in the militia of the war parties; they would then return to protect their families.
Nathaniel stood and laid a hand on his head, an acknowledgment of their mutual grief. They headed out. Uncas ignored the others as Cora started arguing.
The helplessness had altered something inside him, combusting into rage. Without a scream, without wetting his knife with blood, it would only remain inside him, consuming him from within.
As night overtook them in the forest, Uncas realized he was not paying attention to his surroundings. He looked to his father, who simply nodded toward the crag on their right in a silent command. He deserved a much harsher scolding for his carelessness, but it would wait until silence was no longer necessary.
He turned back and passed the others. Then, she was before him.
Uncas took Alice’s outstretched hand automatically, assuming she needed assistance. Instead she stood in place, her big doe eyes looking up into his with sympathy and compassion. It took Uncas a moment to realize that she was offering her condolences.
He gave a small nod and stepped away. Yet before he could release her hand she grasped his between both of hers. He turned back, confused. Now frowning in concern, Alice tilted her head to the side. It was a question.
Touched, his eyes softened. How long had she observed him lost in the desolation of his thoughts? He reached out, fingertips brushing the shoulder of her jacket: a reassurance.
Yes. I will be all right.
She nodded and slowly released his hand.
Uncas felt her eyes on his back as he scaled the crag. Once he reached the top, she was moving again. He looked around the forest for signs of the enemy. Finding none, he walked along a parallel path to the others.
There was nothing he could do for the Camerons anymore—but this girl he could protect. All he had to do was get her to the Fort.
Alice stumbled into the edge of the glade with relief. She was completely drained, both physically and emotionally, after the longest day of her life. Still, she considered the area around her that was to be their camp for the night.
They were surrounded by mounds and curious wooden scaffolding. Alice frowned, trying to make sense of their purpose. After a minute of contemplating the lumps tied to the beams, she drew in a sharp breath.
Bodies. Those were human bodies.
None of the others seemed to notice or care. She turned to Uncas to demand an answer.
He was already approaching her, hands splayed as if he thought she was a horse that might bolt. She took a deep breath and released it, respecting the necessary silence the group had kept since the cabin.
He leaned forward to whisper into her ear.
“Sacred ground. Other Indians will respect it.”
Alice looked at the bodies, then Uncas as he took a took a step back from her. Finally, this was something that made sense. As her body wilted in relief, she breathed out a single word.
He watched her, unmoving.
“You are not afraid?”
She contemplated this, looking from the bodies, the forest, to him. Of course she was afraid, down to the marrow in her bones. But of this?
“I trust your judgment.”
He paused a moment longer, searching her face. Just then, Chingachgook appeared from behind her and muttered something to Uncas in a language Alice didn’t understand. Uncas nodded and immediately disappeared once more into the trees.
Alice avoided Chingachgook’s gaze and followed the others. She collapsed into a ball by Duncan and Cora, willing her mind to believe that she was in the pews of a church, the relics of saints entombed around her. At once, blessed sleep took over.
With the click of a hammer being drawn, her eyes flew open. Uncas was next to her, positioned to defend. She rolled onto her stomach and looked to her right. Where was Cora?
Crunching leaves, whispers in the trees. She pulled herself up to peer over the log, eyes wide in terror. They were coming.
She only became aware of her gasps for air as they were silenced by a strong hand at her mouth. She stiffened as another wrapped around her, pulling her body against his and holding her fast by the arm.
She knew it was Uncas even before the soft whisper brushed her ear, yet her fear was not assuaged. With shallow breaths through her nose, she struggled to turn to the right, where Cora had been before Alice fell asleep.
“She’s safe, with my brother. You’re safe.”
Safe—if they maintained their silence. She stopped fighting him, trying to focus on her breathing, on his scent of woodsmoke and pine, and on the warm, solid presence at her back.
The voices drifted close enough for Alice to recognize the French words. She stiffened again, her breaths ragged once more. Forcing her eyes shut, she dipped her head down, heedless of his hand on her mouth. She gripped the grass beneath her, knuckles white as she pulled herself to the earth. Bone by bone, she forced her body to lie flat against the ground.
As the voices finally receded, her body melted until she was nothing but a puddle. Despite or because of the embrace she was in, her breathing began to regain its natural rhythm.
Uncas carefully released her arm and rolled off of her. The movement brought Alice to her senses. She blinked as his hand slid from her mouth, then turned to lock eyes with his. Quickly averting her gaze, she followed the movement through by craning her neck to look for her sister.
Cora was indeed with Nathaniel. Now that her sister had cooled off, Alice supposed she had gone over to apologize. That was he usual way of it when Cora’s passion overroad her awareness.
Having been deeply affected by the homestead’s destruction, Alice was unable to form the words that would end her sister’s tirade. She wanted to ask Cora how she could not have heard Uncas talk about them being tracked after the ambush, or the care he had taken when he approached the body of the woman. Especially the way Nathaniel reached out to Uncas in comfort.
The sight had driven a lump into Alice’s throat. It was a feeling that made her want to cry or scream, yet as always, neither would be summoned. Nor should they—this was not her grief. She had turned away from Uncas, knowing his pain was a private thing, and yet desperately wishing she could do something, anything to make it better.
She hoped Nathaniel would accept her sister’s apology. She did not want the Mohicans to decide that they weren’t worth the trouble and leave them to fend for themselves. Yet as she watched the pair, they had turned to gaze up at the stars together. Rattled by the intimacy of such a moment, she turned away, but not before seeing Duncan look on in distress.
To her immense relief, Uncas had his eyes closed. Still near, he lay on his back, hands tucked behind his head and face completely relaxed. He looked as though he was at home. Alice combed her eyes over his strange adornments, the clothes he wore, the tattoos on his skin.
She felt shame at her earlier fear of the group abandoning them. Uncas would never do so.
With sudden awareness, she looked up to meet Chingachgook’s eyes. He leaned against a tree, keeping watch. Mortification eclipsed all of her jumbled emotions as she settled down, facing away from Uncas.
Eventually she cracked open her eyes and peeked up at the stars. It was a long time before she fell back asleep.
(1) Quote taken from the book, p. 59. (I honestly do not recommend reading it, but enjoyed a few tidbits that appear in this fic, including Alice’s distrust of Magua and her and Cora having different moms.) Many other quotes taken from the movie or script, of course.
For the story title I used the song Bare by WILDES
Inspiration for this chapter: Holy Ground by BANNERS
Now we're standing on holy ground
So heart don't fail me now
And even if the walls were falling down
It will always be us, be us
This is holy ground
Chapter 2: Arrival
The next day, the group journeys to the fort.
Uncas woke to the sound of approaching footsteps in the early morning hours well before dawn. He cracked his eyes open to see his brother’s proffered hand. Accepting it, he snatched up his rifle with his other hand as he was hoisted to his feet.
Nathaniel slapped him on the back and grinned. Uncas followed his line of sight to the pink huddle on the ground. Alice was curled up in a tight ball, brows slightly pinched in sleep.
Uncas cast an annoyed look at Nathaniel and nodded meaningfully in Cora’s direction. The other Munro girl was still sleeping where she had lain next to Nathaniel earlier in the night. His brother simply shrugged, smile becoming roguish as he walked around the Major to resume his place next to her.
Looking back down at Alice, Uncas hesitated. With her arms held tightly to her chest, she seemed so lonely. He thought of how she looked up at the sky last night after they settled down, her head tilted up just enough so he could see the stars reflected beneath her lashes. He had only opened his eyes long enough to capture the moment, knowing his father watched over them. He held it in his mind until he drifted into sleep.
At the sound of a rustle Uncas’s head snapped up, but it was only the Major. He was staring daggers at Nathaniel as he roused himself for another confrontation. Uncas quickly intercepted him. He held a hand up in appeasement then gestured to the mass of cotton that was the younger Munro girl.
The Major’s eyes softened. Defeated, he nodded curtly and approached Alice, removing his red coat to drape over her body. She stirred and murmured what was probably a thanks as the man sat down beside her, where Uncas had been moments before. As the Major leaned back against the fallen tree, Alice propped her own back against his side. She rested her head on his arm as it enveloped her.
Uncas felt Duncan’s intentions were honorable, brotherly even, but the sight still sent a pang in his chest. Wildly, he wished he could be there in his stead, to comfort her and keep her warm. To take care of her.
Shaking off his thoughts, he stepped away from the others to take over the night’s watch. He stationed himself against a tree as his father did earlier.
He couldn’t think of a Yengeese girl that way, especially a Colonel’s daughter. Sure, she was pretty, but a lot of girls were… even if they didn’t have those luminous eyes—ones that took in as much of the world around them as they expressed.
It would all be easier to ignore if he hadn’t held her the night before. If he didn’t feel her soften under him once the danger had passed—a physical reminder that there was a woman’s body under all that fabric. If she hadn’t shyly looked away only for him to sense the full force of her gaze as he lay next to her.
He thought of the hint of perfume that had lingered on her warm neck. Wondered what the floral scent was.
Stifling a groan, he thunked the back of his head against the tree and forced himself to think of the war party still out there. The one that slaughtered the Cameron family and hunted them in the night. There were certainly others too, eager take a group of Yengeese and Mohicans by surprise.
Ice crept down his spine. Yes. That worked very well.
Alice woke with a start, blocked from her attempt to rise by a weight on her shoulder. She blinked up at Duncan, who awkwardly patted her arm as he extricated himself from her.
“Oh,” she glanced down at the coat and handed it back to him. “Thank you, Duncan. Most kind of you.”
He nodded wearily and climbed to his feet. Alice suspected that he had even less sleep than she the night before. At least she felt no embarrassment from waking up against him. She was cold; he was there. Duncan was simply being a gentleman, and practical at that.
So why did she feel so flustered when she thought about being held by another?
In the early morning light, the events of the night before seemed like a dream. Birds were singing in the trees where once there had been whispers.
Alice shivered at the memory and looked around for Uncas. She was not sure if she was grateful or disappointed to not find him. Instead, only Cora and Nathaniel were nearby.
Alice approached, and her sister embraced her.
“How are you feeling?”
“Will you help me adjust my pins?” Alice touched the back of her head, wincing. She silently vowed never to sleep with her hair up again.
“Of course.” Cora led her away from the camp, into a clump of vegetation that would afford them the most privacy. “We should loosen our stays too.”
Alice nodded, wishing she had thought to do so the night before. Aside from sleeping easier, perhaps she wouldn’t have nearly given away their position from her wretched gasping.
She shrugged out of her jacket and Cora tugged up her shirt. Her sister’s fingers efficiently worked at loosening the laces on her back while Alice thought of what to say.
“Mr. Poe seems to be in a more congenial mood today.”
Cora made a noncommittal “mmm” as she tucked her sister’s shirt back in, then presented her back so she could repay the favor. Alice did so in silence for a moment.
“It’s just that I’m worried about Duncan.”
“What ever for?”
“Losing the company yesterday—I know it wasn’t his command, but he tried so hard to protect us, and… well, he couldn’t. And last night… he is ever so worried about us both, don’t you see?” Alice struggled to find the words to tactfully express her concerns without making Cora uncomfortable. She could hardly warn Cora off from Nathaniel—that would only ensure an attachment.
“Duncan is quite capable. This is not his first tour—he can take care of himself.”
Cora turned, frowning in concern. “Alice, is this… have you been thinking about the river?”
Alice widened her eyes. There was no doubt what incident Cora was referring to, but her family had learned never to speak of it to her. “What? No, I…” But at the memory of that day, she felt a lump in her throat and could not continue.
“I know this is frightening. But we made it through yesterday, just as you did then. And tonight we will be safe at the fort with Papa.”
Alice could only nod as Cora embraced her once more. She wanted more than ever to see her father, and have things go back to normal. For everyone to be happy again—or as much as they could be.
“Besides, Mr. Poe and his family are here to protect you too. As am I.”
Alice smiled weakly.
Cora cleared her throat and brushed a hand across her eyes. “My goodness, we are in a state.”
When she deemed they were as presentable as they could be, they returned to join the men. Alice trailed behind Cora, lost in her thoughts. She glanced around quickly to see that everyone had gathered in a circle, but she did not meet anyone’s eyes. Especially his.
She sat down beside Cora and looked into the trees. Was the war party last night hunting them in particular, or just out for reckless murder? Was Magua looking for them, or had he given up?
Alice had a terrible notion he wouldn’t. If he was determined enough to ambush an entire company to get to Cora, he would continue.
Nathaniel had said something about blood vengeance yesterday. Duncan had dismissed it at the time, as did she. Because how could Cora have insulted anyone in America, let alone a mad Huron masquerading as a Mohawk? Not that she knew what that meant. The only differences she knew about the tribes were their alliegences, but Nathaniel had thought the distinction obvious.
She recalled the way Magua stared at her sister, then at herself. She could not deny it—if he wanted to kill Cora, then he wanted to kill her too. And the only blood that tied them together was waiting for them at Fort William Henry. So then there was this: what could her father have done to enact such retribution?
Nathaniel appeared in front of her then, offering her a chunk of hard red meat. It was apparently edible. She looked up at him, wanting to ask more about the practice of blood vengeance. She sensed that it wouldn’t be appropriate conversation over breakfast this morning, and thanked him instead. Such questions could better be answered at the Fort. They just needed to make it there.
Alice looked to see how the others were tackling their food, and took a cautious nibble. It wouldn’t do. Frowning, she simply tore off a hunk, stuck it into her mouth, and chewed.
Then noticed everyone staring at her.
Quiet laughter broke out from the group, Nathaniel louder than the others. Even Chingachgook cracked a smile. Feeling her face heat up, Alice covered her mouth with her hand until she managed to swallow.
Uncas got to his feet. “We have plums too.”
Apparently he had been out foraging that morning. He distributed handfuls of the small wild fruits to each of them, which she accepted bashfully and arranged in her lap.
Cora popped one into her mouth and froze.
Nathaniel laughed. “You have to spit out the pit.”
Unamused, Cora turned away from the group to do so. “You brothers are incorrigible.”
To Alice’s amazement, Chingachgook chuckled. Perhaps he wasn’t so foreboding after all. She looked to Uncas then, and found him smiling at her. He seemed to know what she was thinking.
Duncan frowned. “Brothers? How can you be brothers?”
Nathaniel leveled a stare at him that made Alice unsure whether to expect anger or laughter. Instead, he simply answered in his sardonic fashion. “Had Yengeese folks. Died. Chingachgook took me in.”
“I thought you were half-brothers.”
The others looked to Alice in surprise. Whether it was because of her broken silence or the choice of her words, she was not certain.
“Alice, what a thing to say!”
She bristled at Duncan’s rebuke. “Well, one mother could be white, and the other Indian.” It was not so outlandish. Still, she was embarrassed for being chastised by him like an ill-mannered child.
“Such an unnatural union—”
Heart sinking, Alice supposed she should have expected a response like this from Duncan. He had spent the early years of his childhood in Georgia colony before his family returned to Scotland to head his late grandfather’s estate. Growing up on a slave-owning plantation, he would have certain convictions ingrained in him regarding racial purity that weren’t as strong in Britain. Back home, there would have been little opportunity to question his prejudice. Until now.
She shook her head at Duncan vigorously, but too late.
“And what is so wrong with that?” Cora stood with outrage. “Am I a product of an ‘unnatural union’?” She spat the words out at him. Before he could answer, she thrust her food onto Alice’s lap and stalked off into the trees.
Duncan sighed and threw his hands up. “What did I say now?”
Alice shifted uncomfortably. “Did you not know? Cora’s mother was from the West Indies. She was of mixed blood herself.”
Duncan stood and followed after Cora, dumping his own food onto her lap. She struggled to contain it all in her skirt as he tried to appease her sister.
“That’s different! I did not mean you, of course.”
Alice sighed and looked beseechingly up at the sky. As Nathaniel made to follow them, she shook her head. If he stepped in now, he and Duncan would truly be at fisticuffs.
“No—don’t. You’ll only make it worse.”
Nathaniel laughed in surprise but his eyes glinted dangerously. It alarmed her.
He hadn’t yet spoken directly to Alice. Perhaps he deemed her too uninteresting, or not strong enough to banter with him. It seemed now that she had challenged him, she had proven herself to be fair game.
Before he had the chance, Uncas cut him off in their own language. He was frowning at his brother. As they exchanged words, she had the uncomfortable feeling that she was the topic of conversation. Nathaniel huffed out the final word with another laugh and eyed her speculatively.
She resolved to find out what “nushètu” meant later.
As Chingachgook got to his feet and announced it was time to go, Uncas went to his pack. Alice felt the moment slipping from her hands.
“He’s a good man.”
Nathaniel scoffed. “Some evidence to the contrary, Miss Munro.”
Alice hesitated yet pressed on. She had to forge a little respect between the men if they were going to last the day.
“Circumstances have not brought out the best in any of us, and I apologize for that. But Duncan has always looked out for Cora and I. He would have given his life to protect us yesterday. He….” She wanted to say more, but the memory brought so much guilt and shame, she couldn’t even speak of it amongst family, let alone these men. Blinking away the stinging behind her eyes, she simply repeated, “He’s a good man.”
Alice looked pleadingly at Nathaniel and Chingachgook. The latter simply grunted as they began to cover the signs of their being at the burial ground.
Uncas knelt in front of her, holding out a handkerchief so she could place the plums and dried meat into it. He finished tying it into a bundle and lingered until she looked up into his face. It was hard to meet his gaze today, but when she did, she realized there was nothing to fear.
He held up a hand to stop her.
“I trust your judgment.”
She blinked, recalling the words she had spoken to him last night. Her chest fluttered alarmingly. He stood, reached down to pull her to her feet, and placed the bundle in her hands.
“Will be a long day. Eat.”
Looking down at it, she managed a nod before going to fetch the others. Duncan looked chagrined and Cora was still upset, but at least they weren’t fighting anymore.
They set out into the beautiful, terrible woods once more. She exchanged a somber look with Uncas as she walked by. It was a comfort beyond words, having him behind her.
She wrapped herself in her thoughts, using them as protection from the threats that lingered beyond her line of vision. Every shadow, every sound reminded her of the dead, and the killers that hunted them. She thought of the Mohican at her back that watched out for them. For her.
Alice didn’t fully understand the pull Uncas had on her. She had felt infatuation before: the thrill, the pleasure, the terror of it. What she felt now what something different, simple yet boundless.
He felt like survival—mind, body, and soul. And she wanted to live.
“Son. What are you doing with the Yengeese girl?”
He had been waiting for this, but there was no need for his father’s concern.
“Taking her to the fort, father.”
Chingachgook grunted but still seemed unhappy.
Uncas wasn’t trying to evade the question. With the dawn had come clarity. He held some interest for this girl, yes, but it didn’t mean anything. Couldn’t. She was beyond his reach, and would be out of his life within a day.
Still, he had become unusually drawn to her. He also couldn’t help but notice the blasé way she spoke of the idea of an Indian and white woman together—as if it were not only possible, but acceptable. But no—as long as he did nothing to frighten her off, he would simply get to enjoy being near her for the day.
He watched her as they set out. He couldn’t help himself.
Alice kept looking into the trees as if something was about to leap out at her. Each time she heard a sound she couldn’t identify, she looked ahead to either Nathaniel or Chingachgook to see their reaction. After a squirrel moving in the trees made her nearly jump out of her skin, he caught up to her.
“Do you hear that?”
She held her breath, listening for a moment, before frowning and shaking her head. “Only birds.”
“Yes. Many. Wouldn’t be singing if others were around.”
She looked behind them as a previously silent finch joined in with the rest of its flock, then sighed. “I’m sorry.”
He shook his head. “Good to be alert. But that’s my duty. If there is danger, you will know.”
Alice searched his face, nodded, and they continued in silence.
As day wore on, his thoughts spiraled back to the Camerons. Days ago their little girl had climbed into his lap, fallen asleep. She was mostly ash now. John had stayed behind when other settlers joined the militia to protect his family. Would it have been better if he left? If one of them was still alive? He thought of how Alexandra lay there, eyes open but empty, like when his own mother—but no, that was too much.
The moment he locked eyes with Alice, Uncas realized that he’d been doing it again. Losing focus. He needed to do better, to be better. It was what she deserved.
The others were just ahead, beyond the next rise. She was retracing her steps back to him. Alice reached out as she had done the day before, hand outstretched to clasp his own. Her beautiful doe eyes once more gazing up at him in concern. He wondered how a person could have this much sympathy for he who had been a stranger only yesterday, and for the people she hadn’t even known in life.
“The Camerons. John and Alexandra. They were good friends. Good people. James and Amelia. Good kids.”
He was beyond grateful for her solicitude, yet he craved more. It was not his right. She must have sensed it though, because she reached up, wrapped her arms around his shoulders, and leaned against his chest.
It shook him. He let out an unsteady breath and returned the embrace, one arm on her back, the other clutching his rifle as he held her close. She spoke.
“They are together.”
A small comfort, but the only other one she could give. He nodded. When he was able to manage it, he whispered: “Thank you.”
They carefully pulled apart, though it seemed far too sudden to Uncas. Not my right, he reminded himself. Her hand brushed against his as she stepped back. Without thinking, he took it and led her onward, only releasing her just before they caught up to the others at a small stream.
Nathaniel assisted Cora across, holding on to her arm longer than necessary. Duncan looked apoplectic. Seeing this, Nathaniel shouldered his rifle and placed his other hand on Cora’s waist as she hopped to the other side.
Uncas shared an exasperated glance with Alice. He saw the plea in her eyes and shrugged apologetically; he had little power over his brother’s actions. Alice nodded with reluctant understanding even as the argument broke out. With Cora as a sister, she could probably empathize.
“Duncan!” Alice called out, hurrying towards him. “Do you mind?”
She reached for his arm and leaned against him, forcing his assistance across the water. As he released her and opened his mouth once more, Alice cut in.
“What do you think Papa’s doing? I do hope he’s not too worried.”
“He has a bloody well right to be.”
Alice’s face fell. “Still, I hope he thinks we’ve just been delayed.”
“Then he’d be quite correct.”
Alice’s posture began to wilt. It made Uncas want to strangle the Major. As the man finally caught on to Alice’s dejection, he sighed.
“I’m sure that’s the way of it, Alice. And he’s probably waiting with cases of champagne and armful of lemon ice.”
“They built an ice house at the fort, did they?” Her tone was teasing.
“Just for you, my dear.”
Alice smiled up at the Major. Uncas’s urge to throttle him did not go away.
Alice collapsed against a boulder in a heap of skirts, trying to catch her breath. The others gathered around her.
“I’m… sorry. Just… moment.”
Cora knelt in front of her, face flushed from exertion but otherwise fine. “It’s all right. We’ll wait.”
As they did so, Alice’s breathing slowly returned to normal. She looked up the ridge. They didn’t even appear to be halfway up.
“Why don’t you all just go on. I’ll catch up.”
“Holding you back. Please, just—”
“If you don’t come along the men will just have to carry you.”
She sighed. When Cora raised her eyebrows, Alice looked to the others in apprehension.
“I don’t know, you’re a couple stone more than you were as a child.”
Alice knew when Duncan was ribbing. She allowed herself to give in to the weak attempt at humor. “You’ve some cheek. I suppose I’ll just have to live in the woods from now on.”
Uncas shrugged. “Can carry a buck out of here on my back. You’re just a doe.”
“I’m a what?”
Uncas simply responded with a quirk of a smile. He wouldn’t dare. Would he?
Feeling her face heat up, she scrambled to her feet as she tried to contain her own smile. Duncan hesitated as he saw Cora walk off with Nathaniel. But after looking between Uncas and Alice, he quickly took the latter’s arm.
Alice was thoroughly vexed with Duncan. First, she had to seek him out in order to quell any infighting within the group. Now he seemed to take it upon himself to attend to her when he couldn’t do so with Cora. She would have preferred the opportunity to be near Uncas again.
She thought of the way his eyes had clouded over with grief as they walked that morning. It had been like the time after the cabin. She wanted to draw him out, bring him back to her, knowing what it was like to get lost in one’s own mind.
Holding him had been instinctive, natural. She didn’t think, only felt what he needed, what she wanted to give. Had he not done as much the night before? It was what survival looked like in this new world. Maybe she could help him live through this too.
As Uncas had led her by the hand back to the others, she studied him. Took in the braid behind his ear, the long dark hair. She wanted to touch it, run her fingers through it. She wanted to touch him again. Maybe they could stop and—but they were back with the others, and Duncan was about to lose his head. Perhaps she had been too, in her own way.
Alice felt Uncas drift away behind her, going off into the trees once more. A surreptitious glance confirmed he did not disappear entirely.
She began to second guess herself. Had she been too forward? Was he avoiding her because she made him uncomfortable? She had been traipsing through the wilderness for two days, struggling all the way. Forgetting to breathe, practically announcing their presence at the burial ground. Though Uncas seemed none the worse for their physical exertions, she was weak and grimy. And she had thrown herself into his arms.
Of course. She repulsed him.
Her conversations with Duncan became increasingly ridiculous as they fought to distract themselves from both the danger and their personal affairs. They began to name luxuries that would be waiting for them at the Fort, the food they would eat, songs they would dance to.
The exhaustion was beginning to make Alice delirious. The closer they got, the more unlikely it seemed that they would ever make it. Her feet ached, legs burned, even her arms were weak from clutching at her skirts all day. She practically clung to Duncan in an effort to keep putting one foot in front of the other until they were out of these woods, away from the peril and her foolishness.
The sky darkened to match Uncas’s mood.
He had drifted from the group a ways to keep a better lookout when Alice had become a distraction. He had found himself staring at her back as she clung to the Major—talking, smiling. At first he knew she was just trying to keep the peace. Yet it seemed the more the Major responded to her, the more she did in kind, leaving Uncas feeling entirely invisible. Unneeded.
He paused, scanned the trees around him. Something didn’t feel right.
“Top of the next ridge. Fort’s downhill of it.”
Nathaniel’s announcement livened the group, Alice in particular.
“Will we be able to bathe?”
Was that really all she was concerned about?
A deep boom in the distance gave them all pause.
“Thunder,” Cora dismissed. Uncas did not think so. It was unnatural, and did not bode well. “Papa will arrange something.”
Duncan offered an arm to Alice as they ascended the ridge. “The men of the regiment will fetch water from the lake, build fires and provide every comfort you desire, Alice.”
She giggled—not for the first time that night. “Duncan, you are absolutely gallant. If Cora doesn’t marry you, I shall.”
Uncas tensed at the joke. Well, he hoped it was a joke. The Major had been awfully accommodating towards Alice, and she held no objections. He thought of the way she slept this morning—practically in his arms.
“Alice!” Cora hissed as the Major laughed.
At least now he knew what all the fuss was about. For all her bravery, Uncas wished Cora had the nerve to tell the Major he had no chance with her. It would save the rest of them a lot of grief. But then, if he were to pursue Alice….
Alice ignored her sister. “I cannot wait to see Papa.”
With relief, Uncas realized it was the first genuine desire he had heard from her all day.
Cora smiled. “And you, Duncan? What are you looking forward to?”
“Posting to a different continent.”
Finally, Uncas began to sympathize with the Major. He too was ready to leave this place far behind.
Alice let out a startled laugh, but Cora seemed put out. “I think it’s very important and exciting.”
It seemed she had discovered a newfound loyalty towards New York along with his brother.
As the group reached the top of the ridge, he saw the fort in all of its glory, illuminated by rockets and the heavy shelling of mortar bombs.
It was under siege.
He met Alice’s gaze. She was finally seeing him again, though fear emanated from her eyes. He was seized by a mad desire to grab her hand and run back into the forest. They could sleep with the dead and forage by day—anything to leave the war far behind.
He looked to the fort again, then turned back. Ottawa. The war party was behind them; there would be no escape. The only chance they had was to run—directly into the siege.
His father took charge.
“To the shore—now!”
Duncan grabbed Alice’s hand and pulled. She followed, blindly stumbling after him. She slipped several times but never let go. Uncas gripped his rifle in both hands, following after—down, down to the lake.
When they made it to the bottom, Alice’s labored breaths from the run began to turn into gasps, but Duncan hurried her onward along the shore. Uncas turned up to see figures on the ledge they had just vacated. He didn’t think they had been seen, but it would be a matter of moments.
Nathaniel spotted the partially hidden canoe first. At a word from him, they made for it. It was a mixed blessing. While the canoe would offer them a direct route to the Fort, it would also leave them exposed to the enemy.
It was their best chance. They uncovered it and pulled it into the lake.
“What’s our plan?” Duncan demanded.
Nathaniel gestured over the lake to the Fort. “Push the girls across.”
To his relief, Duncan nodded and quickly removed his coat as his family tossed their things into the canoe. The Munros were next. Cora reached for Alice’s hand, pulling her forward.
“Will you be all right on the water, Alice?”
Alice nodded and cast a glance behind her shoulder, clearly more concerned of their pursuers than the lake. Why would she be afraid of the water?
“Duncan will keep you safe.”
“Yes, of course,” she breathed, looking back at the Major with complete trust as they climbed into the canoe. Did she not think that his family could protect her too? That he could? To his surprise, Duncan was nodding solemnly to Alice, as though his concern for her finally outweighed that of Cora.
Uncas clenched his teeth as he helped pull the canoe further into the water. He had to focus. Jealousy was not going to help them here.
At Nathaniel’s whispered command, Alice leaned forward at once. She gripped the sides of the canoe tight as they set out across the lake.
Ahead, the siege was in full swing, great booms and shouts echoing across the water. Behind them, a war party was in heavy pursuit. Beneath them, a great body of water waited to swallow her up and drag her by the skirts down to the lake floor.
She bent her head lower, staring her lap as she concentrated on her breaths. In, out, in, out.
A gun went off nearby and Alice flinched, gasping and losing all focus as she looked for the source. The flash of light from the muzzle had appeared on the shore ahead and to the left of them. She slowly realized they were not being fired at; the shooter was aiming at soldiers on the ramparts of the fort. More than one, as evidenced by a quick successive shot.
There was a soft scraping sound behind her. The Mohicans were getting their weapons. Uncas gestured something to Duncan, then disappeared beneath the water.
Duncan laid his hand on hers as it gripped the edge of the canoe.
“I’ve got you.”
Looking into his face, she remembered the boy who pulled her from the river. Of her sister’s overwhelming panic and relief.
She realized that Cora had never been seriously interested in Duncan. There was no desire there, only obligation. He was the grandchild of their Papa’s close friend, Cora’s childhood playmate, her little sister’s rescuer. He would always be a dear friend, but it would never reconcile the fact that their very constitutions were like oil and water. It would never be enough for Cora.
Uncas resurfaced briefly on the other side of the canoe. There was no trace of the other Mohicans.
Alice stared down, struggling to remain calm amongst all the confusion. Where had they gone? How long could they hold their breath?
A thought struck her. It was absurd, but—she yanked the bottom of her jacket open, popping off three buttons into her lap. She silently dipped her hand into the lake and released them. Please, keep them safe.
Duncan was staring at the place the rifles had gone off. Alice followed his gaze and gaped.
Chingachgook was the first to rise from the water, silent as a wraith. He was directly behind the source of the gunfire with his war club held low. Nathaniel and Uncas rose, flanking their father, tomahawks in hand.
Alice could not tell how many men there were. She saw no French uniforms. There was at least one Indian, judging by the silhouette of a scalp lock.
The man whirled around only to be cut down by Nathaniel’s thrown tomahawk. As he followed through with his knife, Chingachgook dispatched another by driving the bladed side of his club up beneath his ribs.
Ice crept down Alice’s skin. Having buried her face against her sister during the attack on the George Road, she had not seen these men kill before.
Yet none of it was as horrifying as the moment a third man thrust his bayonet at Uncas. Alice gasped, sure he had been stabbed. But Uncas gripped the rifle with his free hand and yanked, causing the villain to lurch forward. He brought down his tomahawk hard between the man’s neck and shoulder, and it was finished.
The Mohicans waded back into the water to disappear once more. Fear had consumed Alice again, though it was not from the siege, or the enemy, or the water. None of those mattered. It was on behalf of the quiet Mohican who finally appeared beside her once more. He flicked his eyes to hers but just as quickly looked away, resuming their progress towards the shore.
She resigned herself to maintaining an agonizing silence until then.
When they finally made it to the shore by the fort, Uncas stood back and let the Major help Alice out of the canoe. He ignored the pain just as he avoided her haunted eyes. The sight made his gut twist, and not from the gash in his side. Now she knew him for what he was: a killer.
She broke away from the Major and gripped Uncas’s arm hard as she stumbled into the shallows. He gave in and looked to find her staring down at the blood pouring onto his shirt.
“For Heaven’s sake Uncas, are you all right?” She gasped, heedlessly dropping her skirts into the water as she reached out to him with her other hand. She snatched it away just as quickly, as if she was afraid to hurt him… or maybe she was just revolted.
“It’s nothing.” He should not have been so careless as to get wounded in the first place. “I’m sorry you had to see me do that.”
He bent to retrieve his belongings from the canoe.
“He hurt you.”
She spoke quietly, her voice raw with pain and anger. He paused, turned.
“He could have—you could have—oh, God—”
“I’m fine!” He reached for her, held her arms as he did on the George Road. This time, he did not let go. Softly, he repeated, “I’m fine.”
She searched his eyes for a moment then nodded.
Noticing the state of her jacket, he stilled. “What happened?”
Alice glanced down as though surprised.
“Oh, nothing, I…” she trailed off and looked sheepishly across the water.
He realized there were three buttons missing: one for each Mohican. He smiled. “Miss Munro, did you buy us safe passage?”
“No.” She shook her head emphatically, looking up into his eyes as her hand pressed against his chest. “You did.”
He stepped closer as another great boom rent the air. Alice jumped. Recalling their surroundings, he took her arm and led her after Nathaniel and Cora.
“Come, let’s get you to your father.”
“Oh God, Papa!”
The reminder reenergized Alice, and they hurried after the others. Duncan made several attempts to take her other arm, ostensibly to pull her away from Uncas. To his gratification, she either did not notice or simply ignored him.
He released her to her sister when they got to the sally-port and stepped back to stand with Nathaniel.
They entered the fort into a new hell. Shouts were drowned out by the shelling. Terror permeated the air along with the smells of the sick and injured. He heard Jack Winthrop call out to Nathaniel and knew their friends in the militia had spotted them.
“Uncas!” He turned to see Ian approaching with a bloodied shirt and pronounced limp. Poor bastard had seen better days. Uncas put a supportive arm around him as they made their way to Col. Munro. “Thought you and Nathaniel weren’t joinin’ up.”
“Thought we’d see how you boys were doin’.”
Uncas appreciated Nathaniel’s humor, but he could not bring himself to laugh. “How long’s the siege been?” They had seen each other only days ago, but now everything had changed.
“Got ugly yesterday. Took some shrapnel on the ramparts my bloody first watch. What’s goin’ on?”
Uncas watched Alice flinch away from a particularly close blast. Guilt pierced him. What had he led her into?
“War parties on the frontier. Tracked one, brought us to the Colonel’s daughters.”
“Blood and ‘ounds.”
Munro appeared and Alice threw herself into his arms. At least one thing had gone right.
“Alice! Cora! Why are you here? And where the hell are my reinforcements?!”
Uncas gritted his teeth. No, not right at all.
- “Allons-y là-bas.” - “Let’s go there” in French. I’m 90% certain that’s what they say in the movie but my French is terrible so who knows.
- “Nushètu” - “doe” in Lenape. Couldn’t find the word in Mohican—it might be lost to time. But the languages are closely related so I figure it’s good enough.
Duncan’s racism was hinted at in the book when Col. Munro reveals Cora’s mother’s parentage, and makes an appearance here as well. This story is about an interracial romance set in the 18th century, so I didn’t want to shy away from it.
Inspiration for the chapter: How You Survived the War by The Weepies
You never change your mind once it's made up
Unless it's to crawl back on your knees
You never multiply, always divisions
You give yourself the least of parts
I put on my green felt hat, pack our privisions
Playing a merry Prince of Thieves
Is that the way you want it?
You get back to the wall
And put your hands up
It's a holdup
You give up like every time before
That is how you survived the war
You're not gonna lose this one
You don't have to cut and run
I think you can choose to love and what is more
That is how you survived the war
Now in a summer's day, spring a ripened plum
How will you live under the sun?
You follow the open road, remembering the guns
When you get lost under the trees
Chapter 3: Small Hours
The group has entered a siege, and the night isn’t over.
5 August (before dawn)
“I told you to stay away. Why did you disobey me, girls?”
Alice stared at her father, shocked. It had been two years since he had been posted to America. In all that time, she imagined their reunion would be a happy one—never anything like this.
Cora recovered first, demanding answers. Her father had sent three couriers to Webb, and none had made it. Now Webb didn’t even know they had a siege. There would be no reinforcements. They were on their own.
Alice watched the news destroy her father. Her strong, fierce, loving Papa, now with fresh lines on his face and an awful scar beneath his ear. For the first time in her life, she watched him fight despair. She knew all too well how hopeless the situation was—understood too that her father felt the full responsibility of it all. He had not only the lives of his men to worry about, but the lives of the women and children here too. Now, his own children.
She thought finding him would fix everything. Instead, he needed all the help he could get. She would do her best to be there for him.
When he managed to recover himself, he looked to her and her sister.
“What happened to you?”
“On the George Road. Attacked.” Duncan was unable to look any of them in the eye—as if he should have been able to prevent the attack himself. He would have died for them and still felt that it was not enough.
“We’re fine,” Cora added.
No one was asking the relevant questions anymore, so Alice had to.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes.” He ground out the word, an obvious lie.
“What will happen here, Papa?”
“It’ll be all right, girl.”
It was what people said when they didn’t know. When it wasn’t going to be all right.
He pulled her close, holding her as he did when she was a child. She was fully grown now, but she did not resist, nor did she press his lie. Not here, not now.
“This Magua led us into it,” Heyward added.
Papa stiffened and Alice’s eyes flew open. She pulled back to watch him once more. Since the ambush, she had assumed that Magua had intercepted a courier and taken his place—not that her father had sent him himself. His judgment would have led to their deaths, and he knew it.
It turned out that even Papa could make mistakes.
Uncas watched Alice study her father, concern for him written all over her face. She was always there for others. Did she never take care of herself?
“Eighteen killed,” Heyward continued. “These men came to our aid; they guided us here.”
Alice met his gaze. She was a vision in candlelight, her mussed hair a golden halo around her head. But still, she seemed sad, lost. He thought he wouldn’t have to see that look in her eyes anymore. That he could make things right for her by bringing her here. He had never been so wrong.
Uncas acknowledged Colonel Munro’s thanks with quirk of his mouth, a grimace taking over his smile. It would be better not to attempt another one.
“Do you need anything?”
His family were not mercenaries; they needed no reward. It was on their honor to protect the girls. Yet, there were practicalities to be considered.
Nathaniel asked for powder. Typical of him to think about his rifle first. As for Uncas, all he wanted was some food. Well, Munro’s daughter too, but that might be asking too much.
“Indebted to you.”
The Colonel noticed Alice’s despondency and embraced her once more. Uncas wondered if he was concerned because he had never seen it in her before, or because he had.
“Go with your sister, Alice. It’ll be all right, girl. It’ll be all right.”
After the girls left, Uncas took a moment to relax enough to surreptitiously hold his arm against his still bleeding wound. He hadn’t wanted Alice to see his pain, to worry any more than she already had. He straightened as they made a plan to get reinforcements. It carried risks, but anything he could do to get them out of this mess was worth it.
“Somethin’ else. Cameron’s cabin. Frontier cabin.”
Uncas gathered himself at Nathaniel’s words. For a precious few minutes he had not thought of them, and the reminder hit him hard.
“Came upon it yesterday and it was burnt out. Everyone murdered. It was Ottawa, allied to the French.”
“Aye.” Munro turned, flint in his eyes. “So?”
Uncas looked to his brother, disbelieving. Was this the same man who had been so affected by his daughters’ hard won safety? He could feel Nathaniel try to tamp down on his anger, but still it leaked out.
“It was a war party. That means they’re going to be attacking up and down the frontier.”
“Thank you, sir.” They were dismissed.
Uncas wouldn’t stand for it. “People here—Mohawks, settlers—have family out there!”
“That’ll be all, sir!”
Nathaniel switched to Mohican as he addressed Uncas. “We’ll tell the others, get them out—”
“Let’s go.” At Chingachgook's command, his family filed out of Munro’s quarters, seething.
Alice and Cora were ushered away and to the laundry, where they were able to clean up behind some hanging linens while Mrs. McCann procured new dresses.
Alice dabbed at her face, neck, and arms with a damp cloth. Conscious of the others in the room, she kept her voice low.
“Did you see the new scar below Papa’s ear?”
“Why, no. But it’s probably nothing.”
“He seems stretched so thin. Is he always like this on campaign?”
“It’s probably the shock of seeing us arrive in such a state.”
Alice nodded. Following Cora’s lead, she opted not to wash her hair in order to get to the infirmary as soon as possible. They needed all the help they could get, and Alice knew that a certain Mohican was sure to be there soon.
He seemed fine despite the blood, she reminded herself. He had said as much after they left the lake, when he held her arms, and she reached out to press a palm over his beating heart. She had thought he wanted to keep his distance from her that day, but maybe he had simply been looking out for them. Because when she met his eyes, he had stepped closer. He—my God, would he have tried to kiss her?
She dropped the skirt she was handed and gaped.
Would she have let him?
Cora glanced at her in concern. “Alice?”
Face burning, she snatched the skirt up and put it on over her shift. She was relieved to be rid of her side hoops. They had proved to be cumbersome in the forest, and would certainly not be needed here.
What would her old nurse think of her? Disregarding proper dress, being held by an Indian warrior alone in the woods, dreaming of being kissed by him—oh, because she did want him to kiss her. Desperately.
She avoided Cora’s eyes as she buttoned up her new bodice, as if her sister would be able to read her thoughts. But then, Cora rarely could. It would be Uncas she had to watch out for, or rather, avoid making eye contact with at all costs.
Or should she be doing so instead? Should she be... flirting with him? Alice hadn’t the faintest idea how; the very thought made her heart pound in fright.
She thought of the ladies in London who would giggle and display their ample bosoms to their full advantage, or else make a pretext to be caught unattended in a garden. How would that even work here? ‘Oh, la, Uncas, I just happen to be alone in the magazine—were you looking for gunpowder too?’
No, that would never do. And neither would showcasing her figure; her new bodice was a bit large on her, and her shift modestly cut. Not for the first time, she felt rather plain next to Cora. With her sister’s far more womanly proportions, it was no wonder men had been giving her so much attention.
At least Alice’s new clothes being suitably clean were an improvement on her filthy riding habit. Now properly attired, she marched out from behind the linens.
“Shall we head to the infirmary?”
“Aren’t you hungry?”
“Oh, right. Starving.” Blast it. “Perhaps we can nip on over to the kitchen first.”
They thanked Mrs. McCann and headed out, only to be intercepted by their father. They were to dine with him back in his quarters; all hopes of meeting Uncas in the infirmary were quashed.
“Glad to see you looking refreshed, my girl.”
Alice managed a small smile. This time, she would strive to keep a better handle on her emotions.
It was not easy.
Over a humble supper of stew and bread, Cora went into more detail on their attack. Alice watched her father carefully as her sister spoke of Magua, but he was silent. With a sinking feeling, she realized she wouldn’t get any answers without breaking a few eggs.
“Papa, it was mentioned that the man had...” She tried to think of a delicate way to phrase it and failed. “Well, he tried to murder Cora in particular.”
Her father looked shocked and appalled while Cora pursed her lips. Perhaps she hadn’t been going to share that bit of information. Well, it was too late now, and answers were more important.
“Could it have something to do with blood vengeance?”
Cora and their father shared a disconcerted look.
“Who’s been telling you of such things?” Papa demanded.
“No one—that is, not to me... I overheard Mr. Poe speak to Duncan about it.”
“Well... it seems that’s not the only exaggeration Mr. Poe has made.”
Cora started. “What?”
Alice wasn’t sure what he was referring to, but before Papa could completely brush it aside, she pressed further.
“He also said he was a Huron and not a Mohawk.”
Her father leaned back in his seat, face stony and eyes going distant.
“What reason would that creature have to get in your good graces, become your courier, only to send us into an ambush?”
He returned his attention to her, frowning. She had pressed him too hard. Cora just watched her sadly.
“This is war, Alice. There is no greater reason than that. And I’m sorry I ever brought you into it. I should have left you to your studies in London.”
“But I wanted to come, and now that I’m here, I believe I deserve answers. I am not the child you left behind!” Too late, she realized her voice climbed as she spoke until she was positively shrill. It was too much for Papa. He got to his feet in one swift movement, wooden chair grating against the floor.
“I must return to my duties. Cora, please look after your sister. You will stay here tonight; I’ll be with the other officers.”
Alice rose to her feet, contrite. “Papa...”
“Get some rest, girl. You’ve had a trying couple of days. We’ll talk again on the morrow.” He embraced her and her sister once more. “It is so good to see you again.” Then he was gone.
Alice slowly returned to her seat, staring at her stew. She mechanically resumed eating.
“You mustn’t question him like that, Alice. It’s not like Papa is when we’re at home. Here he’s simply the Colonel, and he’s in charge.”
“So we must be good soldiers and follow orders?”
Cora sighed. “That’s the way of it.”
Alice was not fooled. It may be sound advice, but she knew if Cora had been half as upset as she, her sister would not have stood for it.
“Cora, are you not concerned?”
“No. Magua was foiled. Whatever reason he believed he had no longer matters.”
“It matters to me.” Perceiving that she was sounding petulant, she sighed and stood. Cora did the same, and at the clinking of bowls, Alice realized they had to clear their own table. She did so in silence.
“Do you still want to help me in the infirmary?”
Alice jerked her head up at that. How could she have forgotten?
“Oh, yes! Do you think Uncas has been looked after yet?”
Cora smiled with approval. “We’d better make sure.”
They hurried out to dispose of the dishes in the kitchen, then went to find Mr. Phelps.
Uncas’s family took time to cool off and assess over a supper of British army rations. They would still let the militia know about the raids, and let them decide for themselves whether they stayed.
As Uncas finished the gruel that was supposedly once oats, peas, and pork, his father chastised him for not having his wound tended to yet. The pain and bleeding had lessened so that it had been easy to ignore when more important matters had to be attended to.
Uncas acquiesced, knowing pride would do him no good if the cut never healed properly. He went to the surgery as Nathaniel tracked down their friends. He would convince one to act as courier (as they themselves were spent), then borrow rifles from the others. As angry as they were with Col. Munro, preventing the fort from falling was the priority.
To his surprise, he found Mr. Phelps taking a break outside while Cora Munro tended to an injured soldier. She finished wrapping his shoulder with parting instructions to take it easy then acknowledged Uncas with a tired smile.
“We’ve been expecting you, sir. Please.”
She motioned for him to sit on the table before turning to wash her hands in a basin. As he hoisted himself up, Alice came trundling in with an armful of blue fabric that was once Cora’s dress.
“You’re sure about this? I’m sure I could salvage…” Seeing Uncas, she stilled. He smiled, remembering way she had done so after he saw her cast her things into the river. Wary doe.
“Yes, just place it in the pile of rags over there, thank you.”
Alice did as instructed then wandered over to her sister’s side, not meeting his eyes. Her new dress wasn’t tailored for her, but Uncas preferred it. It was less stiff, allowing for more of her body to move, to be seen. His eyes trailed down her neck to her exposed collarbone, then back up again.
She hadn’t been this shy on the shore of the lake. She had looked up at him almost adoringly, full of trust. He’d wanted to reach down, pull her close. Kiss those full lips that he had touched the night before. Would she have responded? For a wild moment, he was sure she would.
“Can I help?”
Turning to Uncas with a clean rag in hand, Cora nodded towards a medicine chest. “You can thread the needle.”
Alice did so and returned once more. Dousing a clean rag with alcohol, Cora nodded to his shirt.
“If you would, sir.”
Uncas pulled it up so she could clean his injury. At Alice’s sharp inhale, Cora glanced at her but seemed unsurprised. Finished with her task, she held out her hand for the needle. Alice passed it to her, still staring at the wound as Uncas studied her face.
“I’m going to start suturing now.”
Cora’s warning seemed to be more for her sister than himself. Alice nodded. As the needle pricked his skin, she blanched.
“I’m… some air,” she gasped out and hurried away.
Uncas turned to watch her go, concerned. She sat outside the room on a crate. “Will she be all right?”
“In a minute or two.” Cora smiled sadly. She pierced his skin and pulled the catgut taught. “It’s a shame that this is Alice’s first campaign.”
As she continued to stitch him up, he appreciated the opportunity to learn a little more about Alice. He suspected Cora simply kept up the conversation to keep his mind off the pain. He appreciated that too.
“Why would your father send for you in the middle of a war?” The Munro girls were not like the army wives who had nowhere else to go. They had enough money to enjoy a pampered existence far from any conflict.
“There is always a war, sir.” Cora spoke as if he said something ridiculous. “I first joined my father on his campaigns eight years hence. I would have been here sooner if Alice hadn’t joined society.”
“Oh, yes. Parties, dancing, that sort of drivel. That’s the world Alice belongs in, not that she realizes it yet. More than once I’ve caught her sneaking away from the crowd to raid our host’s library.”
The image made Uncas smile. It was cut short by the next stitch.
“She hoped to embark on a Grand Tour of Europe one day. Then the Great War of the Empire began, and here we are instead.” Finished with suturing, she sighed. “I wish she would stop pushing herself and get some rest.”
Uncas wanted to point out that she was hardly going to do so when Cora was at work, but refrained.
Nathaniel entered then. As he helped himself to some cloth, Cora finished dressing Uncas’s wound.
“It will seep, and then it’s going to draw.”
“Thank you, miss.”
“‘Bout done holding hands with Miss Munro?”
Uncas glanced up at Nathaniel and smiled. He had attributed much of his brother’s pursuit of the elder Miss Munro to rivalry with the Major. It seemed there was more to it than that.
“We’ve got some work to do.”
Uncas adjusted his shirt over the new bandage and hopped off the table, happy to leave the pair alone. He might have time to exchange a few words with Alice. Make sure she was all right.
He looked over to where she had been sitting—but Alice was gone now. He searched until he finally spotted her just outside, talking to Jack Winthrop in the shadows.
She was smiling.
A pretty girl like her, he should have known that it wouldn’t take long for the men of the fort to notice her. But did it have to be Jack?
He stopped and took a different route to the bastion, maintaining his stoicism. He was going to go shoot somebody.
Alice waited outside the surgery, hoping to talk to Uncas after Cora finished sewing him up. Make sure he was all right.
In the mean time, Nathaniel strolled in with a blond man who appeared to serve in the militia. She thought Nathaniel spotted her. Instead he turned his back to say something to the other man, who gave a wry smile and shook his head skeptically.
Uninterested, Alice didn’t pay much attention. She glanced up at Uncas, then back down at the floor desolately. If not for them, he wouldn’t have to be stuck in this hellish prison. He wouldn’t have gotten hurt in he first place. And when Alice wanted to help, she was worse than useless. She would have to stay away entirely until Cora was done dressing his wound.
Nathaniel walked by with Mr. Phelps. Moments later, Alice was surprised to see a pair of boots stop in front of her.
She raised her eyes to the man. He was leaning on his rifle at perfect ease, grinning. He had some audacity, not waiting to be formally introduced to her. But perhaps that’s just how it was in America—or in a fort under siege.
“Captain Jack Winthrop. I’m a friend of Nathaniel’s.”
She gave a small nod of acknowledgement, then glanced at Uncas again. Cora was cutting a strip of cloth to bandage him. He still held his shirt up, and now that she was over the shock of seeing his bloody laceration, she observed that he was exposing his bare side and upper thigh.
Alice swallowed and looked back to Jack, whose eyes sparkled with amusement. It made her wary.
“Do you happen to know where I could find some blankets?”
She nodded and led him back the way he came, surprised the Captain hadn’t noticed the stack of blankets on the crates as he walked in. Then again, it was dark outside.
“Thank you, miss.”
“You’re welcome, Captain Winthrop.” She gave a small curtsy and made to return to her vigil.
“Heard what happened to you on the way here.” He sounded serious now.
She stopped and looked back at him.
“Glad our boys found you when they did.”
She nodded, and gave a small smile. “You know them well?”
“Known ‘em for years.” His smile returned. “They have a reputation around these parts.”
“Do they?” Her eyes perked up. She wanted to know more.
“Oh yes. Nobody crosses a Mohican. The enemy even has names for them.”
“They call Uncas the Bounding Elk, on account of his strength and speed. None can match him.”
“I believe that,” Alice grinned. She peeked over Capt. Winthrop’s shoulder, only to see Uncas’s retreating back. Disappointed that she missed him, her shoulders sagged marginally. The Captain craned his neck to follow her line of sight. He was still smiling.
Alice noticed Duncan marching out of the fort with several companies of soldiers. He hadn’t had a chance to rest. What was he doing?
“Do you know what’s going on?” She asked, frowning.
He nodded. “Sending a courier to Webb. Should have reinforcements here the day after tomorrow.” He looked up at the sky which began to show hints of a gray dawn. “Make that tomorrow.”
“Oh, thank goodness.” She positively wilted with relief, and he gave an amused nod. “But, why the soldiers?”
“Provides a diversion while our illustrious Mohicans cover the courier from above.” He nodded to where Uncas and Nathaniel were ascending the bastion. “It’s a good thing we have Hawkeye with us. Now, he’s known as the Long Rifle.”
Frowning, she gave a distracted “mmm” of acknowledgment.
“I’ll be off. Pleasure to meet you, miss.” He tipped his tricorne hat.
“You too, Captain.”
After he left, she realized he forgot to take a blanket. Well, he knew where they were now. She watched the last of the soldiers exit the fort then ran back into the surgery.
Cora didn’t want to hear it.
“Oh, don’t tell me until after it’s over. Otherwise I never get anything done for all the worry.”
Alice looked around sheepishly. “I suppose… if you need me to…”
Cora waved her away. “Go on, it’s nearly day. I’ll show you around tomorrow. Later today, I suppose…” she wiped her brow and began preparing for the influx of casualties the diversion would provide.
Alice ran back outside. She wanted to watch Duncan from the ramparts, but knew she would not be allowed up there while there was a skirmish on the other side.
Perhaps it was for the best. She’d probably just freeze in terror.
She saw Nathaniel wave to the courier, and off he went. Uncas waited until the last second to kneel in front of the embrasure, in full view of enemy sharpshooters… like the ones by the lake earlier.
It was a good thing they were dead.
As Nathaniel and Uncas took turns firing one rifle after the other, she felt a strange mix of sadness and pride. Of all the people in the fort, their marksmanship was the most trusted.
But how many lives would they be forced to take?
Jack had finally deigned to join them on the bastion.
“I just had an enlightening chat with the younger Miss Munro. Charming girl.” To Uncas, he added: “I can see why you put off heading west.”
Uncas bristled, but was saved from doing anything stupid by his brother’s announcement of the fate of the Camerons. The altered mood ended all frivolities, and Jack called a militia meeting by the west bastion. Uncas now had the concentration he needed to guard their friend who was acting as courier.
Eventually Nathaniel took down the last man. Their courier was on his own now. Uncas hoped the two loaded pistols in his belt would be enough to see him to safety between here and Ft. Edward.
He waited until the man was out of sight before releasing his breath and looking around. Blood red streaks in the sky heralded a new day.
The regiment returned. The Major looked like he had been through hell, but maintained perfect composure as he marched in. He was in his element now.
Once the company was at ease, Alice ran to the man, clutching his hands in relief. He smiled wanly, no doubt wishing there was a different Munro girl waiting for him instead.
Uncas turned away, taking his time to collect his things as the others wandered off. Maybe he was wrong—reading too far into things. Maybe the spark of interest he had seen in Alice’s eyes was mere curiosity. She clearly had other options here. Better ones.
Swinging his rifle over his shoulder, he slowly made his way down the ramp, trailing far behind the others. He looked forward to the oblivion of sleep to tame his restless mind. He had to be encroaching on thirty hours without it.
But then, there she was.
Standing at the bottom of the ramp, Alice watched him, her head tilted to the side. Waiting.
He went to her in a daze.
Her big eyes looked up at him, appearing as exhausted as he felt. What was she doing still up?
“You need to sleep.”
“You too.” She paused. “I heard the courier made it through.”
With his confidence shot, Uncas knew he was floundering. But she had sought him out in the end, didn’t she?
Alice inclined her head towards his shirt. “I could mend that for you.”
He looked down at the filthy, torn cloth. “I can take care of it.”
“Please, let me be useful. Cora stitched you up; I can manage a shirt.”
“All right.” An impulse struck him. Perhaps it was the frustration or the lack of sleep, but he was feeling reckless.
He removed his rifle from his shoulder, handing it over. She took it hesitantly, frowning in confusion. Eyes still on her, he removed his belt, and handed that over as well.
Finally, he tugged his shirt up and over his head.
She stared at the bandage around his waist before her eyes crept over to his arms and finally, his bare chest.
A slow smile crept across his lips as he exchanged the shirt for his belt and refastened it around his waist. He took his rifle next.
“Admiring my tattoos?”
Her eyes flicked up to his and away as she tried to hide a smile. The light was still dim, but he was pretty sure she blushed.
“Do they carry meaning?”
Enjoying himself, Uncas held on to the subject. He presented his arms and gestured at the triangles. “For strength,”—he indicated the lines around his wrists—“protection.”
Alice studied the tattoos more leisurely now that she had a reason to.
He pointed to the design across his upper chest, a permanent wampum belt. “Last of my tribe.” Finally, he gestured to the tattoo beneath it, opposite his heart. “A fox, for its spirit. My namesake.”
“Not an elk?” She looked back up, startled out of her trance.
He grinned. “Have you been hearing stories about me, Miss Munro?”
He adored that sweet smile.
“Please. Call me Alice.” She seemed unable to hold his gaze.
Yes, she was definitely blushing. After a moment, she stepped back. “Well, I’d better…,” With one last glance, she clutched his shirt in both hands and walked away. He watched her leave, pink ribbons trailing out from her braids. He wondered how long that golden hair was, and what she would look like with it tumbling down and around her shoulders.
Ian approached. The man used his rifle heavily for support, but he was grinning.
“Wanted to know if you’d join us at the west bastion, but I see you’ve been busy.”
Uncas waved him away. “Whatever you’re planning, I don’t want a part of.”
“Should say the same for you.” Ian stopped, his smile falling away. “I hate to ruin your fun, but you ought to pay heed.”
He glanced around, though nobody else seem to have noticed his conversation with Alice. A shirtless Indian wasn’t an unusual sight here.
Sighing, Uncas leaned on his own rifle. “I know.”
“Colonel’s daughter though, well done.”
Uncas shrugged at Ian’s resumed grin, skeptical.
“Lad, if Mary looked at me like that before I left for this God-forsaken fort, we’d have a babe by spring.” He paused, musing. “Come to think of it, we may yet.”
Uncas laughed, then considered. If it were possible, if Alice truly reciprocated in any way… he grimaced. What was he doing? He shook his head and looked up at the sky. The sun was now properly rising.
Ian had become pensive.
“Mary safe?” He knew well how near their cabin was to the attacks.
“Should be. She’s with family. But with what happened to the Camerons… it’s hard to countenance.”
His voice broke on the last word and they stood in silence, mourning.
“Get some sleep, you look like hell.” Ian nodded to Uncas’s bandage. He waved off Uncas’s offer to help him to the west bastion.
“Good luck, Ian.”
“God help us all.”
Somehow Alice found herself outside the laundry, her mind a puzzle of confusion.
Why hadn’t he kissed her? She asked him to address her by her first name, for Heaven’s sake. The only men who did that were her father and Duncan, whom she had known most of her life.
She stopped and held the maroon calico shirt in front of her. It was still warm from Uncas’s skin, and the lake had not entirely washed away the scent of the woods. She would have been hesitant to launder it had it not also contained layers of gunpowder, sweat, and blood.
Alice entered the laundry. Now that it was safe to exit the fort for the day, she happily discovered fresh water was being drawn from the lake in preparation for the day’s wash. After expressing a desire to wash the shirt herself, she was shooed away by Mrs. McCann who took over the task for her.
“Please be careful, there is a tear in it. And there’s… blood.”
“Never you mind, dear. We’ll have it as good as new for your man.”
She nodded tiredly, realized what was said, then blushed.
“Oh, that’s not—he’s not—” Or was he? Casting about helplessly, she realized the other women were washing their faces for the day. “Do you mind if I wash my hair?”
Somehow she ended up being tended to by another woman who helped unpin her braids then assisted her in washing, rinsing, and wringing her hair dry. As she submitted to their attentions, her mind was still scattered.
If Uncas was shocked by the impropriety of using her Christian name, then he ought not to have stood there half naked with that look in his eye. Even Alice, inexperienced as she was, could feel the power of that regard. Was he just teasing her?
In the end she had a long braid of wet, clean hair over her shoulder, secured by one of her pink ribbons. After thanking the laundresses, she snatched Uncas’s shirt up along with some thread. She headed out the door in a hurry, not wanting them to question her further on her motivations to mend it herself.
When she made it to her father’s bedchamber, she draped the damp shirt over the back of a chair and shed her bodice and skirt. She then climbed into her father’s bed and burrowed under a pillow to escape the sunlight creeping through the windows.
She had the horrible feeling that the only kiss she would ever have would be the one foisted on her by the Venetian dignitary she had danced with last season—if one could call that a kiss.
He had a poor grasp of the English language, so she had responded to him in clumsy Italian before they managed to settle on Latin. After the dance, she slipped away to scour the host’s library for a rumored edition of Sidney’s Discourses Concerning Government.
Unfortunately Console da Mosto had taken this as some sort of signal and followed her. As he had leaned in, her body froze in shock. Alice was only just able to turn her head at the last moment, causing the man’s lips to land on the corner of her mouth and leave a wet smear of brandy and saliva across her cheek.
He had been most apologetic afterwards, partially from his own embarrassment as well as the fear of causing an international incident. After the offense wore off she simply returned to the party with disappointment and a general wariness of Italians. It would be months before she ever got to read Sidney.
Alice vaguely felt Cora climb into bed next to her. She hoped they would sleep well during the day, because they would have to live through another night of the siege.
The real Col. Munro posted to Ft. William Henry in the spring of 1757, but I figured that wouldn’t give enough time for Magua’s family to be killed and for him to become blood brother to the Mohawks. So, I coincided his arrival in this universe with the construction of the fort in 1755.
Inspiration: From Eden by Hozier
Babe, there's something tragic about you
Something so magic about you
Don't you agree?
Babe, there's something lonesome about you
Something so wholesome about you
Get closer to me
Honey you're familiar like my mirror years ago
Idealism sits prison, chivalry fell on it's sword
Innocence died screaming, honey ask me I should know
I slithered here from Eden just to sit outside your door
Chapter 4: Blood
We learn more about our Mohicans before Alice and Uncas put themselves to work during the second night of the siege.
TW: Graphic violence
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sleeping during the day turned out to be a mixed blessing. Most than once, Alice woke from her troubled dreams to discover she was bathed in light, her sister sleeping soundly beside her.
Eventually, Alice woke once more as Cora bustled around the room. Sunlight still streamed in from the windows.
“What time is it?” She mumbled.
Alice rolled over with a groan and looked around. Her boots and stockings were in a heap on the floor, her skirt and bodice likewise on the seat of the chair that held a maroon shirt draped over its back. Her heart pounded at the sight of her and Uncas’s discarded clothing mingled together; it was positively indecent.
She cast a furtive glance at her sister, who was pinning her hair up into a messy but sensible pile. Cora nodded to the chair.
“Is that Uncas’s shirt?”
Alice buried her face in the blanket to hide her blush, hoping she simply appeared to be hiding from the glare of the sun. But Cora would know that he had taken it off in front of her; she would hunt him down and give him a scolding for the ages.
Alice spoke in a muffled voice. “I offered to mend it.”
“Quite right.” Cora sounded unperturbed. Commending, even. “I’ll be collecting linens for the surgery.”
Alice peeked out to watch her sister leave, then sat up, dumbfounded. That went over better she could have hoped.
She swung her legs out over the side of the bed, stood, and promptly collapsed to the ground with a startled “mmph”. Her legs were jelly; they might never bear her weight again. How many miles had they trekked through the wilderness in the past two days? Whatever it was, it was many times more than the stroll in Hyde Park she was accustomed to.
She crawled over to the chair and with a monumental effort of will, pulled herself to her feet, got dressed, and searched for embroidery supplies. Finding her father’s field kit in a cabinet, she sat back down and ran her fingers over Uncas’s shirt.
If only she had her own embroidery kit with her. In it, she would have found an approximation of the color thread she needed. She hoped whoever had found their pack horse along the George Road would make good use of it.
Alice made quick work of the tear and sat back to examine it. She used a stitch that hid most of the black thread from sight, but had second thoughts. What if it wasn’t durable enough, and fell to pieces the first day Uncas wore it? She ripped it out and made a fresh row of tiny stitches.
What was she thinking? Now the mending was more obvious, and the stitches too perfect. Uncas would know how much time she spent fretting over the tear.
Before she could start over again, a knock sounded at the door.
Her father’s voice. She bade him enter, surreptitiously tucking the shirt beneath her arm.
“We need the room.”
“Of course.” She pulled herself to her feet and noticed the braid she slept in still hung across her shoulder. “Oh, but I haven’t done my hair!” Not that she knew what to do with it; she couldn’t pin it up in its customary braids on her own.
Papa sighed, but smiled affectionately. “My dear, no one minds.”
A group of officers followed him in as she cleared the table. Her father introduced them, and somehow she managed to make the appropriate curtsies, feeling ridiculous all the while.
Alice was relieved when she was able to make her escape; perhaps now she could make herself more presentable. Before she had the chance, she ran into a group of colonials and Indians waiting outside.
“Mr. Poe, Capt. Winthrop.”
The two men greeted her cordially, but seemed distracted. It had to be a serious meeting. Curiously, a third man with a bandage around his leg seemed to hide a smile as he caught sight of the bundle tucked beneath her arm. Did he recognize Uncas’s shirt? She hoped she imagined it. It would be best to return it as soon as possible to avoid any further embarrassment.
As she left the kitchen armed with a cup of tea in one hand and yellow muffin in another, Alice found herself out on the parade ground with nowhere to go. She spotted Uncas sitting to the side at a fire with Chingachgook and a group of Indians—including a chief, by the look of him.
She noted with disappointment that Uncas had another shirt on. Irrationally, she became annoyed. Why did she go to all the bother mending this one so quickly? Perhaps he didn’t even want it back. But, he looked rather fetching in green too.
Alice simply couldn’t approach him in front of all those men. Losing her nerve, she made a plan of action to bribe one of the fort’s children to deliver it for her. She had unlimited access to the rocks of sugar candy used in the officers’ tea, and children liked sweets, didn’t they?
But then Uncas looked up at her with an arresting smile. She had no choice but to be drawn forward.
As the sun dropped lower in the sky, Uncas sat with his father and a group of Mohawks around a campfire. He gave the pot a stir, knowing the only thing worse than this insipid meal would be a burnt one.
They discussed the raids on the area. Ongewesgone was displeased to hear of the Huron and Abenaki so near his own territory, but it was a risk the Twin River Mohawks had taken when they came to the fort. They had left others to defend their territory; it would have to be enough.
He spotted Alice standing on the outskirts of the parade ground; that golden hair was hard to miss. Now a single braid hung over her shoulder, the familiar pink ribbon tied in a bow at the end. The hairstyle could be an Indian one, yet it suited her beautifully.
She watched him, clearly hesitant to approach the group, so he went to her instead. She offered his shirt back to him wordlessly, not meeting his eyes. The illicit nature of the action made him smile.
“It was nothing.”
He gestured back to the fire, where the Mohawks were beginning to disperse. “Join us?”
She glanced around at the other fires scattered about that had men and women alike. With a small smile, she nodded.
Chingachgook introduced her to Ongewesgone, and her eyes lit up with interest. She bobbed the best curtsy she could manage with her hands full.
“Mohawk, you say? Pleased to meet you, sir.”
She seemed disappointed when the chief left, but settled herself on a log. His father sat beside her at a respectful distance, subtly placing himself between the two. Uncas dished up their own meals, taking the time to mask his annoyance.
“They put you on rations? An egregious error; it will be corrected at once.” Alice sounded appalled.
Turning, he saw that she made to stand, but his father stopped her with a wave of his hand. “Already cooked.”
She settled back down, frowning. “Later, then.”
Uncas handed a bowl to his father. To Alice, he said: “I guess I shouldn’t offer you any.”
Alice laughed. “No, thank you.” She held her muffin aloft by way of explanation.
“That’s what they tell me. Upon further inquiry, I was helpfully informed that it is a ‘mush muffin’.” She bit into it delicately and swallowed. “Mmm, yes. Quite mushy.”
Uncas laughed, and was pleased to see his father smiling as well.
As they ate, Alice watched the group of Mohawks, lost in thought. Meeting his eyes, she nodded towards them. “How does one tell the difference between a Mohawk and Huron?”
He recalled the guide on the George Road and lowered his bowl. “You’re thinking of Magua.”
A nod. He did not like the way the Huron invaded her thoughts. He wished Nathaniel had been able to finish him off when he had the chance.
“Aside from the war party he led—his tattoo.” He motioned to his temple. “Hair and clothes could be either.”
“Way he fought,” added Chingachgook. “Coward.”
Uncas smiled grimly. It was not entirely unacceptable for a man to flee when faced with a sudden disadvantage, so he supposed his father referred to the way he targeted Cora. Killing women was not done, no matter what tribe one came from, though some made exceptions for white women. “There is no love lost between the Hurons and Mohicans.”
Alice sipped her tea, staring into the fire. “He went to an awful lot of trouble if his aim was to murder my sister. Is that why Nathaniel thought it was blood vengeance?”
“And is it common practice to target the children of one’s enemy?”
He and his father exchanged a look; they were well aware of it being done before.
“Practice is: a life is only taken for the one that is lost. Does not always work that way.”
He looked to his father for permission to continue. Chingachgook gave a curt nod.
To Alice, Uncas said: “I will tell you a story.
“Years ago, the Mohicans live with our cousins, the Delaware. There is one Mohican girl in the village. Many want her as a wife, but she intends to marry another Mohican: a warrior, not yet proven in battle. One day, a Delaware captures the girl from her parents. Takes her away to a Huron tribe to marry her.”
Alice listened with rapt attention, both hands clutched around her cup. “So the Delaware went to war with the Huron?”
“They did not. Does not happen when women are taken; they are adopted, treated well. Most believe not worth warring over, if they live happily. Delaware council offers the warrior another bride instead.”
“But... that’s awful.”
Chingachgook grunted in agreement.
“Just so. When word arrives of the girl’s location, the warrior goes after her on his own.”
Alice gaped. “Truly?”
He inclined his head, smiling.
“But on his journey, he meets a Yengeese settler he knows well. Settler’s home was raided by French trappers. Wife and daughters killed, baby gone. He searches for the boy; Settler and Warrior agree to help each other.
“Meanwhile, Hurons adopt the girl. They want her to marry one of their own warriors, not the traitor Delaware, though he may stay and become Huron. So, the Warrior and Settler watch the camp, wait until the girl goes to the river. She is with another woman. Settler leaves behind his rifle; holds the old woman back while the Warrior rescues the girl. Old woman screams. Mohicans escape in the Huron’s own canoe, but Settler is taken. Mohicans are free, but decide they must go back for him together.”
“To the Huron camp, the two of them! That’s very brave.”
“It is.” Uncas grinned at his father, who narrowed his eyes back in annoyance, but Uncas could tell he was hiding a pleased smile. “Settler is tied up, in a group of men. Girl goes to the Hurons, and they are pleased to see her. She distracts them while Warrior comes close to the camp. As the Hurons decide to kill the Settler, Warrior leaps out, unties him, gives him his rifle. The Hurons have left their own amongst the trees. Warrior announces himself, calls for peace. But the traitor is there, throws his knife at his chest.”
Alice gasped. Uncas enjoyed the effect the story had on her. Though shortened for time, he always thought it was good—but stories of one’s own family tended to be.
“Girl hits his arm, knife lands in a tree instead. Warrior throws his own knife into the traitor’s heart. Hurons want revenge.”
Remembering what the topic of their conversation had been, Alice groaned. “Blood vengeance. But the warrior was defending himself!”
“Fault doesn’t matter. A Huron died, so they attack. The three run back to the canoe, but Settler stops. He tells the Mohicans to find his son. He covers them so they can escape.”
Alice held a hand over her mouth. Uncas nodded.
“He dies, but it does not fulfill the debt. The Hurons have been at war with the Mohicans ever since.”
“Even now, when you are so few?”
Uncas nodded. She paused and looked to his father with sudden clarity.
“The Mohicans found the settler’s son. Nathaniel Poe?”
His father nodded. “With trappers, Français. Not those that killed the women. Found them too.” He stared darkly into the fire, the implication clear.
Alice understood. “But the girl?”
Uncas smiled. “Married my father, took Nathaniel in as her own, and had me.”
Alice smiled back. “What is her name?”
“It was Wah-ta-Wah.”
Her smile fell away as she heard the past tense. Chingachgook got to his feet with a sigh and walked away, clearly not wishing to hear the end of a story he knew all too well.
“The traitor had a brother.”
“But he was not a Delaware when he died.”
“Just so. It was not his right, but the brother still wanted his own revenge against our family. He wanted to take my mother, kill the rest of us.”
“Why you and Nathaniel?”
“Coward. Didn’t want us to grow up, challenge him. If he had a right for blood vengeance, it would be my father’s life he could take. If my father had a brother of his own, perhaps him instead, but he did not. In the end, he killed my mother; she killed him too.” He did not wish to go into detail.
She shifted closer to him. “I am so sorry. She sounds like a very brave woman.”
He nodded. They stared into the flames of their campfire, looking brighter now as the sky began to darken.
Recalling the point of his story, Uncas added: “There is no feud with the Delaware.”
“But you still fight the Huron.”
“More now that war has brought them into our territory.”
“Is that how you found us? Was your family... hunting them?”
He inclined his head. The Huron were on a war path; once found it would not go unchallenged.
“Well, I’m awfully glad you did.” Her voice had gotten small. Alice place her hand over his, and he took it, ran a thumb over her knuckles as he looked into her eyes.
Alice glanced over his shoulder, eyes widening. “Oh, no.”
He turned. Cora came marching toward them, face flushed in anger. Uncas slid away from Alice instantly. He wondered if he should he make a break for it, but too late. Cora stopped and cast a basket of linens to the ground.
“You would not believe what I just heard Duncan say.”
“Oh.” Alice relaxed, then tensed again. “Wait, what?”
“He said the raid on the farm had nothing to do with the French. ‘Savages bent on thievery’, he said.”
Uncas was not surprised, but Alice was.
“Papa wants to keep the militia here.”
“But surely if he knew their homes were being attacked...”
Uncas sighed. “Told him last night.”
Alice was speechless as Nathaniel appeared. The meeting was over.
Uncas nodded to him. “Heard it went as expected.”
“You could say that.”
Cora began making apologies to Nathaniel as Alice stared vacantly ahead.
Uncas studied her face. “You all right?”
She blinked, shaken from her reverie. “Of course.”
She looked up to see his admonishing frown and let out a long breath. “It’s just... he’s not the same man I knew in England. In some ways, he feels like a stranger now.”
He had no words to comfort her, could not hold her in front of others. Uncas felt powerless.
Alice let out a breath and rearranged her skirts self-consciously. “So, I’ve been wondering. Do Mohicans make a habit of stealing canoes?” Her lightened tone seemed forced, but Uncas went along with the diversion.
“Often as we can. Fastest way to escape, and our territory tends to be downriver.”
“And I’m sure it vexes your enemies terribly.”
They shared a smile.
Across the fire, Nathaniel demonstrated the merits of his long rifle to Cora. He gestured at the barrel and made a spiral motion with his fingers, indicating the rifling inside. As Cora started to peer down the muzzle, he snatched it away, chiding her. She seemed startled at first, then threw her head back and let out a peal of laughter. Nathaniel joined in, shaking his head.
Uncas was envious; it was so easy for them, so impossible for himself. As Alice looked on, he wondered if she thought the same.
She glanced up at the sky. “It’ll be night soon. Where will you be?”
“Keep watch where they need me. Maybe the ramparts. You?”
“The infirmary. Do take care, Uncas.”
“You too, Alice.”
She gave the smallest of shrugs, but nodded. As she left, he gathered his things. Cora turned to him.
“Thank you so much for your kindness towards Alice.”
Surprised, Uncas only managed a nod. Did she think he was simply humoring her sister?
Nathaniel grinned. “Yes, Uncas. Very good of you.”
Uncas decided it was best to escape before Cora could catch on. And none too soon, for as he did so, Nathaniel checked the pot over the fire for the last of the gruel.
“Ugh, it’s burned!”
“Were you going to eat that? How vile.”
As more laughter followed, Uncas smiled reluctantly. Nathaniel had never betrayed such particular interest in a woman before; it was assumed amongst friends and family alike that he might never settle down. Ultimately, Uncas wished his brother whatever happiness he could get, even if he could have none of his own.
After stopping by the kitchen to drop off her cup and make requests for early morning “supper”, Alice made her way to the infirmary. Cora joined her shortly and they got to work, Alice running errands and gathering supplies while her sister patched up the injured.
She thought of the way Cora and Nathaniel were so free together. She wished she could have some of that with Uncas, but there would be little chance of that. For one thing, she was far too reserved to intentionally display her affections in front of others. For another, she was beginning to realize how their interactions might be perceived as inappropriate beyond those of other young couples.
The people here treated her like a delicate princess, as if letting her do anything useful would cause her father to appear and strike them down. Cora didn’t have that problem. Was it because they knew her from before, or was it because Alice was such a weakling that she wasn’t to be trusted save with the simplest of tasks?
Uncas, on the other hand, was all strength and capability. People might think that he was taking advantage of her. Was that why he hadn’t kissed her yet? Was he being a gentleman? She wished she could tell him not to be, but she was far too shy to directly communicate such forwardness.
A man from the militia entered; Alice recognized him from among those who had waited outside her father’s quarters that day.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Aye, miss. Don’t s’pose I could change my bandage.” He indicted his thigh, where blood had seeped clean through the white linen.
“Of course. Cora!” Her sister was assisting a soldier. She explained the situation.
“It’ll have to wait, I have several more to attend to.” Alice bit her lip, and her sister shrugged. “Unless you want to do it. Just clean and rewrap it.”
“I’ll come back another time, miss.” The man turned to go.
“Wait! I can do it. Please, have a seat.” She grabbed a few clean bandages and a mostly empty bottle of rum.
As the man began unwrapping the bloody cloth, she looked away and distracted herself with conversation.
“Are you a member of the militia, sir?”
He nodded. “Ian Graham, at your service.”
“Alice Munro.” she curtsied, to his evident amusement. “My mother was a Graham.”
“Mayhap we’re cousins, then.”
They smiled; the surname was that of an entire clan, making the connection tenuous at best. She was likely to find far more closely related Munros here amongst the Highland regiment, all strangers.
“I suppose so.” She took the briefest of glances at his exposed wound before gently dabbing it with a cloth. It was still awful, but much easier to handle when the patient wasn’t Uncas.
“Do this often, miss?”
He grinned. “Allow me.” He mopped up the blood efficiently before Alice quickly covered it with a cloth. Together, they wound a fresh strip of cloth around the leg. Alice tried not to flinch away whenever he winced.
“I am terribly sorry to hear about the meeting today, Mr. Graham.”
He nodded in acknowledgment.
“Do you live near here?”
“My cabin’s not thirteen miles south of the Cameron’s.” He met her eyes as she frowned in concern. “But my wife’s with her sister. Further south.”
She snatched up the bottle of rum and thrust it towards him. Alcohol was carefully rationed here along with the food. It wasn’t much, but it held a couple good swigs left. “For the pain.”
“Much obliged, miss.”
He emptied it while she attempted to tie the bandage. “I don’t want to make it too tight.”
“No fear of that. Tight as you please.”
After her first attempt, he placed the bottle down and retightened it. She backed away sheepishly as he stood, satisfied.
“Good as new. Thank you, Miss Munro.”
“My pleasure, Mr. Graham.”
As he walked away, Alice spun and beamed at her sister, who responded with a smile of her own.
“Well done, Alice.”
Uncas frowned at Ian as he joined him along the southeastern ramparts.
“You clear for duty?”
“My eyes still work, don’t they? Naught else for it.”
Ian sat down on the other side of the embrasure, moonlight shining off the side of his head. Uncas prodded him back with the butt of his rifle.
“Yeah, yeah.” Ian waved him away, but remained hidden from view as Uncas managed to do the same while peering down into the marsh below.
An explosion sounded from the other side of the fort; a split cannon.
Ian sighed. “There goes another one.”
“How many lost so far?”
“That makes four. Fourteen left. Munro shouldn’t be overextendin’ ‘em.”
“Pushing hard until reinforcements come.”
“If they come. It’s gettin’ desperate, Uncas. Not worth stickin’ out.”
“You and your family stayin’ now?”
“No plans to leave.” He realized the option had never been discussed, it had been simply understood that they would stay and defend the fort, despite their unwillingness to do so before.
“Is that wise?”
Uncas didn’t respond. He knew where this conversation was heading.
“Listen, there’s been talk. I get it, she’s a sweet girl.”
And how did he know that? At the question in his eyes, Ian indicated his leg.
“Changed my bandage earlier.”
“Did she?” Uncas smiled, remembering the way she had to leave the room when she saw his own wound. Now she was changing bandages; he felt absurdly proud.
“There you go gettin’ all moon-eyed. You hear what I’m sayin’?”
“I know. I know.” He hated the thought of rumors going around about Alice, especially when he was the cause. Not that he took kindly to ones about himself—after all, Munro could have him whipped if any credit were given to them. But he didn’t want to drag her through that. “You’re right.”
He must have looked miserable, because while Ian smiled, his eyes held pity. Uncas realized Ian was leaning into the embrasure again. The exploded cannon had caused them to become distracted; it was unacceptable. Again, he pushed him back with the butt of his rifle.
A bullet ripped through the space where Ian’s head once was. In a small burst of splinters, it embedded itself into the side of the side of the barracks behind the ramparts.
Ian stared at it. “Ah, hell.”
Uncas called out a warning to the others on watch, then examined the trajectory of the bullet. Having an idea of where in the marsh the shooter must be, he quickly descended from the ramparts to inform the rangers and Mohawks on duty.
As Ian caught up, a team left the fort to take care of the problem.
“Right, well, thanks.”
“This mean you’ll stop with the lectures?”
Ian laughed. “Aye. Fair’s fair.”
They shook hands companionably, and Ian took his leave.
As the shelling commenced throughout the night, the surgery became busier than ever. Alice stepped out back to take a moment’s break, only to see more people scattered along on the dimly lit wall she hadn’t known were there.
Closest to the light of the surgery, a woman lay on her back, eyes closed. Her face was shiny from sweat, and marked with blisters and open sores. In her arms lay a small girl. She burrowed her face against her mother’s chest, but Alice could see similar marks along her own neck. She felt her stomach tighten.
Mr. Phelps appeared beside her. “Best keep your distance, Miss Alice. It’s the pox.”
“Quite all right, Mr. Phelps. I’ve been inoculated.” She gestured to her upper arm where, as a child, she had received a small cut followed by fluid from an infected pustule. The resulting scar from the single blister was now hidden beneath her sleeve.
“Even so, there’s not much for it.” In a much quieter voice, he added: “Won’t be but a day or two for the pair of ‘em.”
The woman opened her eyes and stared directly at Alice. Her pupils were constricted, her breaths slow yet shallow; Mr. Phelps had been generous with the laudanum. The miserable, haunted look kept Alice rooted to the spot. She suspected the one thing that held death at bay for this woman was the need to look after her child.
Suddenly, there was a loud blast from the ramparts, different from the shelling.
“Not another one!” cried Mr. Phelps, and the infirmary became awash with activity.
Alice went to her sister and immediately helped her sort through the scraps of fabric she was frantically cutting for fresh dressing. “What’s going on?”
“Exploded cannon. Never good.”
Sure enough, a group of injured soldiers were soon carried in. Cora began assessing one’s bleeding scalp while Mr. Phelps began cutting away the sleeve of another. It was such a twisted, bloody mess that Alice suspected there might not be much of an arm left.
Distantly, Alice became aware that her name was being called. Once more, Cora said: “Alice, rum!”
She turned to a cabinet, feeling as though she were wading through molasses. When she finally made it back to Cora, her sister uncorked the bottle with her teeth and poured it over the man’s head. She then pressed a cloth to it and held out her other hand. “Bandage!”
Alice stared at the mingled blood and clear spirit soaking into the man’s shirt.
Alice started, then complied. She watched as her sister wound the bandage around the dazed man’s head. “It’ll need stitches but it’ll have to wait.”
Mr. Phelps’s shout brought Cora’s attention at once. She glanced at the man he was tending to and ran to drag a chest out from the corner of the surgery. She picked something up from the top of it and handed it to Alice. Taking it, Alice observed that it was a piece of wood with tooth marks buried into it—still damp from the previous user.
In a daze, she held it between forefinger and thumb as she carried it to Mr. Phelps. He had just finished tying a tourniquet around the man’s upper arm; the lower half was a shattered, bloody pulp. Mr. Phelps wrenched open the man’s jaw and stuck the wood in his mouth.
As Cora arrived with knife in one hand and bone saw in the other, Alice stepped back. She had nothing to do but stare as several men held down the patient, and Mr. Phelps got to work.
She thought the gunshots and yells on the George Road were the most terrible sounds ever to be heard. The shelling and splintering of the fort around her turned out to be even more awful—but these muffled screams of a man whose arm was being severed from his body, these were the worst of all.
Alice forgot to breathe. Staring ahead, she no longer saw the scene before her. For an indeterminate amount of time, her mind registered nothing at all.
Somehow the man must have spit out the wood, because the screams became shrieks of agony.
Alice turned and fled.
Screams sounded from the infirmary. Alice appeared, face blank and eyes wide. She hurried directly for her father’s quarters, her braid unraveling down her back with each step.
Uncas caught a glimpse of pink on the ground—her ribbon. He picked it up, only realizing then that he had been following after her. What was he doing? He couldn’t burst into the officers’ private rooms, regardless of who they contained. No—especially so.
Uncas resolved to not seek her out in private. He’d return it the next time he saw her, and be done—for both of their sakes.
But first, he went into the surgery to find Cora stitching up the stump of a man’s arm. The rest of it was carried off to be thrown in with the pile of corpses waiting to be buried during the day.
Finished with her task, Cora quickly washed off her hands and looked around as a couple soldiers hauled the man away. “Alice?”
“She left. In your father’s quarters.”
“Ah.” She looked to the soldiers waiting to be seen, frowning.
Uncas folded his arms expectantly.
“Go on, Cora.” Phelps assessed the remaining patients. “I can handle the others.”
She let out a breath. “Thank you, Mr. Phelps. I’ll return soon.” Picking up the basket from earlier, she nodded to Uncas as she bustled by.
He exited behind her to find that the rangers and Mohawks had returned; two of the Indians held aloft scalps. Uncas was not one for collecting trophies, but he supposed that served them right for trying to bury a bullet in his friend’s head.
As he watched Cora disappear into Munro’s quarters, he tucked Alice’s ribbon into his belt and returned to his watch.
- Wah-ta-Wah (aka Hist) appears in the book The Deerslayer, the prequel to The Last of the Mohicans. The story here is altered to fit the movieverse, as Hawkeye was the friend of Chingachgook’s in the books, not his son. Wah-ta-Wah and Chingachgook are informally referred to as Delawares throughout most of the book, but they are in fact Mohicans living with the Delaware. Her eventual death was never described in the epilogue, but she obviously had Uncas first.
- Fun fact: In the books, Nathaniel comes from a line of Nathaniels, Uncas comes from a line of Uncas’s (even Chingachgook’s real name is Uncas), and Alice’s mother was also Alice. James Fenimore Cooper makes up for this startling lack of creativity by using multiple nicknames for the same characters.
- Forgot to mention this in the last chapter’s notes. In the script, Cora is described as being unconventionally educated. She also seems to have been the only one to have gone on campaign with their Papa (Mr. Phelps doesn’t even acknowledge Alice, either he’s super rude or never met her). From this I surmised that Alice, being left in England during these times, would be even more well educated than her sister.
Inspiration: Panic Attack by Liza Anne
I think I wanna die
But I guess I know I’m fine
Oh God, tell me is it over yet?
My words disappear on a dry tongue
And I am trying to let you know it
But I am drowning by the moment
I guess I’ve been having trouble sleeping
But now I’m having trouble breathing
And I hate that I can be seen like this
Think slowly, try to remember I’m alive
My body is here and I am inside
Chapter 5: Abeyance
Alice recovers from her shock at the infirmary, and Uncas struggles to to keep his distance despite a well-meaning friend.
6 August (before dawn)
Alice’s ragged breathing become gasps for air as she burst past the guards outside her father’s quarters and wrenched the door open.
“Alice?” Of course—Papa was using the room. “Out!”
She started and reached for the door handle, then realized that he was speaking to his adjutant. The officer hurried out the other door.
“Come here, girl. What’s the matter?”
He reached for her and held her hands. She tried to explain, but the words refused to make themselves coherent past her tremulous breathing. Her distress at being unable to communicate only compounded the problem.
“Shh, that’s all right.” He embraced her warmly and drew her forward to the bed. “Come lie down.”
She acquiesced, realizing with alarm that her face had begun to tingle from the lack of air. If she didn’t get ahold of herself she may faint.
“Ah, my sweet girl. The very image of your mother, the very disposition.” He knelt beside her, lost in memory. “Twenty long years she waits for me, and what did I reward her with but another woman’s daughter? And yet she forgives me, weds me. Would she be so forgiving now that I left her child behind only to bring her into a siege? Aye, but she’s a saint in heaven.”
Alice was still unable to answer her father’s musings, but he rarely required a response when he was like this. It was a story he told time and time again, until she was quite sure that he remembered little else of Alice Graham than an idealization of fidelity and compassion.
She wished she knew more of the woman who gave her life to grant one to Alice, but that day wouldn’t come until they were united again. Perhaps it was for the best that the young girl behind the infirmary would leave this world with her own mother; they would never be apart.
Ashamed of her dark thoughts, she shut her eyes and turned her back to Papa.
With a sigh, he stood. “I must defend the fort. Here, all claim alike to be my children.” He was leaving.
Though she was glad he would no longer have to see her in such disgrace, her breathing hitched. She tried to contain her feelings of abandonment, knowing rationally that Papa’s responsibilities here were greater than those of a parent.
“It’ll be all right. We’ll dine together when activity has ceased, how about that? There, now.” He gave her shoulder a pat and stepped away.
The door opened.
So Alice was to be handed off to another caretaker. A hushed exchange occurred between the two of them, and Alice pretended not to hear her name being discussed.
When Papa left, Cora sat down beside her.
“I know it was awful, but he couldn’t live with his arm in that state. Now he has a chance.” Alice nodded and clutched her own arm, grateful for its presence. She couldn’t imagine living with only one.
She realized her hands were weak and trembling. Thankfully, the alarming numbness in her face had begun to recede with each deep inhale of breath. She managed to speak.
“How bad is the pox outbreak here?” Her voice was quiet and unsteady, a wisp of a thing, but she managed to get the words out nonetheless.
“Mr. Phelps does an admirable job of keeping it treated and contained. It is not unusual in a fort like this.”
Another deep breath. “Laudanum.”
“Makes one think of Nurse, doesn’t it? But he is careful with the amount he dispenses.” After a moment, she added: “Wretched woman.”
As Alice rolled on to her back to frown at her sister, she simply shrugged, unapologetic.
Cora had never felt a desire to mourn their nurse, and Alice couldn’t blame her. After all, the woman could have killed her sister with the amount of laudanum she had used to keep her quiet. Alice knew this, yet when she thought of Nurse, it was as the woman who raised her, the one who entertained her with tales involving spirits and journeys into Faerieland. When she was in her good humors, that was.
After Nurse’s death, Alice had kept her grief held tight for weeks until it burst forth from her body in waves of panic.
She turned away again with a sigh. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think I’d have these fits again.”
“It was a hard transition when we were sent to school.” Is that what Cora thought plagued Alice in those days? “It’s even harder now. But we’ll all be stronger for it when it’s over.”
“How are you able to stand it, Cora?”
“I suppose I try not to dwell on it. And it gets easier over time.”
They drifted into silence for a time, nothing but the sounds of their breathing and the fire crackling in the hearth filling the room. Eventually, Alice felt her sister move off the bed to pick up her basket: so, Cora was leaving her too.
Suddenly, the door swung open with a clank of the latch and the groaning of wood.
“Cora!” Duncan’s voice. He must have just gotten off duty; perhaps the siege was ending for the night.
“Shh!” her sister admonished.
He lowered his voice immediately. “I-I wanted to talk to you.”
Of course. There was no need to understand the source of his distress as her sister was openly vexed with him. Poor man—perhaps Cora would finally put an end to his hopes.
Alice rose from the bed and got to her feet.
“Talk to Duncan, Cora.” To her dismay, she sounded far from recovered. But, there was nothing for it. “I must manage. I cannot be an invalid schoolgirl.”
“I’ll see if Mr. Phelps needs anything.” Perhaps she could make up for her pathetic display earlier.
She shut the door behind her to give them privacy.
Alice made her way back to the surgery, forcing herself to place one foot ahead of the other. At least there were no more screams, no more shelling.
Mr. Phelps looked up from his patient with a frown. “Miss Alice?”
“Mr. Phelps.” She curtsied. “I apologize for my actions earlier.” She took a deep breath, and spoke with marginally more conviction. “How may I assist you?”
He studied her dubiously. “No need, miss. Thank you.”
Her brow pinched. “Surely there is—“
“Get some rest, miss.” With that, he turned away.
At a loss, she stood in place for a moment before walking back out onto the parade ground. With Duncan’s usurpation and Mr. Phelps’s refusal for aid, she had nowhere to go.
Glancing down at herself, Alice considered her appearance. She must have lost her ribbon at some point in the night, because hair tumbled freely down her shoulders, where other women of the fort still wore theirs in a cap with dignity. She fancied she looked like a sort of faerie come to spirit away unsuspecting souls. She rather felt like one; no wonder Mr. Phelps sent her away.
Well, what could she do? She could sew, but the laundresses seemed determined to serve her instead. Her father had an adjutant to read and write missives. She wasn’t needed anywhere.
She let her feet carry her away up to the now quiet ramparts and to the North bastion. Turning west, she waited for her eyes to adjust in the faint moonlight before she could make out the angled lines of trenches French sappers had carved into the earth.
She wondered how much closer they needed to get until they were able to reduce this fort into a pile of splinters. It had to be merely days away.
As Nathaniel and Jack appeared together on the ramparts, Uncas braced himself. Separate, they were incorrigible. Together, they were impossible. Lucky for him, their conversation appeared serious, and Jack made his leave to talk to some others in the militia.
Uncas caught up to his brother and addressed him in Mohican.
“What was that about?”
“Just discussing the Munro girls. Something else, aren’t they?”
It was obviously not what they had been talking about. Uncas did not reply.
“Come now, Uncas. You were getting mighty comfortable with Alice earlier.”
Uncas deflected. “Not as comfortable as you were with Cora. You should show her how to fire Killdeer next, I’m sure she’d enjoy that.”
Nathaniel grinned. “No need, she already can.”
“A woman who could put a bullet in a man, then patch him up after. What more could one want?”
“My thoughts exactly.”
Uncas gave up. To his annoyance, Nathaniel had always been impossible to tease.
“You know, I wouldn’t have believed it, but Jack said your Doe—“
“Do not tell me what Jack said—and she is not mine.”
“What’s the matter, brother? Still hunting for a wife instead?”
Uncas did not respond.
“Listen, Uncas. Let me give you some advice.”
This was going to be good.
“Your problem is, you think too much. Just enjoy yourself.”
Typical of Nathaniel, always acting on impulse. It was part of the reason why Uncas was always relegated to rear guard in a fight: to watch his brother’s back.
“There is nothing to think about.” He’d made up his mind. Approaching Alice was anything but a good idea.
Nathaniel paused, eyes glinting mischievously. “So, if you saw her now, you’d just walk on by?”
Uncas narrowed his eyes, unsure of what his brother’s aim was. “That’s the idea.”
Nathaniel nodded over Uncas’s shoulder. “You sure about that?”
Uncas followed his line of sight to see Alice standing in the North bastion, her fair hair a beacon in the moonlight. She stood fully exposed in the embrasure.
“Alice!” He did not think—he ran. As she turned, he collided with her, forcing her to take several steps into the shadows of the parapet. “What are you doing, you could get shot!”
Her eyes widened. “But no one’s out there, the French have stopped for the night.”
“Maybe!” It was unlikely the French would station sharpshooters when they had ceased digging entirely—in fact, it would be pointless—but he had nearly seen Ian’s head get a hole torn through it earlier. That had been great cause for concern, but the thought of anything happening to Alice made him nearly mindless with fear.
He tugged on her hand, leading her across the bastion to the side facing the lake. She acquiesced in bemused silence. From this angle, there were no opportunities for the French to lurk in the shadows, simply a smooth expanse of water—but Uncas checked anyway. He turned back to catch a glimpse of Nathaniel’s smirk just before his brother headed down the ramp.
Sighing, he looked back at Alice. With her hair tumbling down around her shoulders, she had never been more lovely. She watched him carefully, her wide eyes betraying a silent vulnerability. Nushètu.
“Are you sending me away?”
He shook his head, considering how to put her at ease—not frighten her more. He reached out, ran his hand down her shoulder. If anything, she leaned into his touch.
“What are you doing up here?”
“Nowhere else to go. Duncan wanted to talk to Cora in my father’s quarters, Mr. Phelps doesn’t need me....”
As she trailed off, he realized he had been running his fingers through her hair. She was not objecting. If he wanted to, he could simply reach up, tilt her head back, lean down and—
Someone approached over the ramparts. He stepped away.
“Found this earlier.” He produced the pink ribbon and handed it back to her, not meeting her eyes.
“Oh. Thank you.” She took it, wrapped it around her hand, and began braiding her hair. “You know, I’ve always had others to do my hair for me. Without a maid I’m quite at a loss. Isn’t that ridiculous?”
She laughed at herself, but the humor did not reach her eyes. He wanted to tell her not to bother; he preferred her with her hair long. It would not be appropriate. Nothing he did around her was, it seemed.
“I’m sorry—am I interrupting something?”
Jack—of course. Uncas was glad he and Alice were now standing apart.
Alice glanced up. “Not at all, Captain.”
Uncas was sure he detected an edge in her voice, however subtle. Was she annoyed with Jack’s implications, or because there had been nothing to interrupt? It was impossible to tell as she focused on tying the end of her braid.
“Came to let you know your watch is over, Uncas.”
Alice perked up. “In that case, I’ll have supper prepared promptly.” She disappeared down the ramp to the parade ground.
Jack watched her leave. “Now she’s waiting on you. That’s... interesting.”
“Jack.” It was a warning. Yet Uncas supposed he was lucky to have gotten this far without Jack starting in on him again; he at least had the decency not to do so in the barracks earlier, where they would have been overheard beyond their circle of friends.
He rolled his eyes. “Look, I apologized for interrupting. There are plenty of opportunities to find oneself alone here. Or alone together, if you catch my meaning. I’ll help you out.”
“No?” Jack leaned in and lowered his voice. “Here I thought you were pursuing Miss Munro, but if she isn’t spoken for, I don’t mind if I—“
“Speak one more word, Jack, and the militia will have to find themselves a new Captain.”
He held his hands up in surrender but smiled as Uncas departed.
Alice entered the kitchen with purpose.
The cook looked up from his work. “Miss?”
“Food for three, if you please.”
“We are already preparing food for your family and the officers, miss.”
“This isn’t for me or the officers.”
“Miss, our stores are carefully rationed.”
Alice did not like that condescending tone. Luckily for her, in all her time living with cousin Eugenie in London, the one practical thing she had taught her was to manage a household. Alice mentally thanked her for it now.
“I saw some beef aging in the cellar earlier; and what is that wonderful smell?”
“Apple pie, but that’s for the off—“
“Half of it will do.” Silence. “If there is a problem, you may certainly bring it up with my father.”
They both knew he wouldn’t dare.
“No? Excellent. And to show my appreciation, I’ll assist you.”
And keep an eye on you.
Ultimately, Alice did try to make herself useful, but it seemed she wasn’t to be trusted near a knife or an oven. She was relegated to brushing the dirt off of some vegetables instead. Well, it was a start.
When her own meal was ready, she helped bring it to her sister and Papa. As she settled down, she addressed the scullery maid.
“You may inform the cook I will fetch the additional meals after I’ve finished.” Turning to meet her father’s puzzled gaze, she explained. “For the Mohicans.”
He sighed. Before he could start in, Alice beat him to it.
“Papa. These men saved our lives, and in return asked for nothing more than gunpowder and food—both of which they expended for our benefit. I believe that service is worth more than the... stodgy porridge you call rations.”
“Your sister is certainly rubbing off on you,” Papa grumbled, but did not object.
Sobering, Cora found her opening. “You know, Papa. If they had joined up with the Fort earlier, they could not have been to our rescue.”
He looked up from his food, frowning. “What’s this about, girl?”
“Perhaps we don’t need everyone in the militia here—they could be out protecting the frontier.”
“They do more good here.”
“Their families are in jeopardy. If you knew we were in danger, would you not want to come for us yourself?”
Alice dropped her fork and watched her father.
“Cora, do not trivialize. My loyalty is to the Crown. My duty is to protect this fort. That means every soul in it.” He punctuated the last sentence by jabbing his finger into the table. “If this fort is abandoned to the French, many more lives are lost—the lives given before them, in vain. Then the entire frontier goes unprotected. Do you hear? All would be lost. I do not expect you to understand.”
Alice supposed there was a certain nobility in her father’s words, but she wished he had not spoken them.
They ate their remaining courses in silence, with Papa making the occasional inquiry regarding news in London. After he left, Alice turned to her sister.
“Did Papa just tell us he would not come for us?”
Cora did not answer.
Upon leaving the room, Alice came across the Mohawk chief alone. What was his name? Ongewesgone. She seized the opportunity to speak with him. After a hurried greeting, she got to the point.
“There was an Indian who acted as courier for my father. He presented himself as Mohawk, but was Huron.”
“Twin River Mohawk got no part in this. But, you speak of Magua.”
She found it difficult to read his matter-of-fact tone. She hoped she hadn’t somehow offended the man. She was seeking answers, not placing blame. “You know him?”
“No. Rumor. He was Mohawk prisoner, fought for the tribe. Became blood-brother. Mohawks will repay his betrayal.”
She nodded in acknowledgment. Bloodshed did not generally please her, but for one who would murder her family, she held no objections.
“How did he become a prisoner of the Mohawks?”
“Yengeese raided Huron village, two springs ago. Mohawk took many prisoners.”
“Thank you, Ongewasgone. You have been most helpful.”
Finally, she found an answer—and she had an idea where to find more. But first, there were Mohicans to attend to.
Uncas sat with his father by their fire, both trying to ignore the fact that Nathaniel seemed to be mysteriously missing along with most of their friends in the militia. He hoped his brother wasn’t up to anything stupid.
Alice approached carrying a heavily laden tray, and he stood to assist her.
“I had to pile each course onto one plate I’m afraid. I would have invited you to dine with us properly, but with my father there, I thought that would be rather... awkward.” He met her eyes and Alice nearly dropped the tray. “That is, I don’t believe he’s very partial towards Mr. Poe.”
Uncas smiled. “He’s not.”
She set the tray before him. Each plate contained a slab of steak with mushroom gravy, roasted vegetables, and a generous slice of apple pie. As Alice beamed at their thanks, their friends in the militia began to filter back to the fire and tensions around the camp eased. A fiddle began playing and a few couples even danced.
“I hope you don’t mind claret.” To his surprise, Alice pulled out an entire bottle of wine from her skirt pocket.
“French wine? How’d you get that?”
“Oh, my father’s been saving it since before the war.”
He exchanged a glance with Chingachgook. He didn’t want to think how many pelts this bottle was worth. Should they be drinking this?
Alice scoffed. “I didn’t filch it if that’s what you’re thinking.”
Chingachgook smiled and Uncas waved the suggestion away.
“Course not.” Though that may have been his next question.
As Uncas used his knife to pry off the wax seal and cork, Ian arrived and resumed his place across the fire from Uncas.
“Are you joining us, Miss Munro?”
“Thank you Mr. Graham, but I must find Mr. Poe.” She held up the tray with Nathaniel’s plate and looked around at the other campfires. “Has anyone seen...”
She stilled. Uncas followed her line of sight to find his brother standing in the middle of the parade ground facing Cora. Without a word, he took her by the hand and led her into the shadows.
Did they have to do so in front of the entire camp? And at this moment?
Mouth ajar, Alice turned to meet Uncas’s eyes only to find the rest of the group watching in hushed anticipation. She snapped her jaw shut and looked down at the tray, taking a moment to collect herself.
“Well, I suppose Mr. Poe will not need supper after all.” Her lightened tone was forced as she offered the plate to Ian for the rest to share.
“Nathaniel’s loss is our gain.” He held it aloft as a small cheer went around the group. “A feast! Prepared by the very hands of Miss Munro, no doubt.”
He moved aside to make room for Alice.
“Hardly, I merely scrubbed the parsnips.”
Ian helped himself to one and passed the plate along. “And a fine job of it you did. Cleanest neeps I ever did have.”
Chuckles permeated the group. As he ate his meal, Uncas was gratified to see Ian had made Alice smile.
Unfortunately, Jack appeared and decided to settle himself between Ian and Alice.
“Tell us, Miss Munro, what does a man have to do to earn such fine treatment?” Jack gave Uncas a sidelong glance, causing him to wonder if he was being baited.
Alice’s face hardened, likely at the memory of the days past. But then she met Uncas’s eyes with consideration.
“Well, if you’re like Uncas here, you’ll start by running off our horses.” That’s right—they met just days ago in the bloody aftermath of an ambush, and her first impression of him was probably that of some horse thief. The timid creature that had been on the ground moments before had thrown herself forward to challenge him. He had been focused entirely on the practicalities of their situation until he looked into her eyes.
Ian coughed. “What? Uncas, ye didn’t.”
His wince was reply enough, but Alice’s face lit up with a grin. “Oh yes. Never a word to me, just ‘ha!’ and off they went. It was most shocking.”
“I hope you gave him what for, miss.”
“She did. Tried to chase them down too.” Smiling, Uncas met her gaze across the firelight. She held it for a moment before glancing away.
Jack scoffed. “Not the demure Miss Alice Munro? The epitome of grace in this fort?”
Alice hesitated, her guard back up. “Sometimes I learn from my sister’s example.”
Uncas was pleased that she ignored Jack’s flirtations.
“And what else did your sister teach you?” Jack raised his eyebrows salaciously. He had clearly seen Nathaniel run off with Cora along with the rest of them.
Uncas’s hand gripped the knife he was eating with reflexively before realizing that this was a problem not solved by drawing blood. Ian promptly cuffed Jack on the back off his head, knocking his hat askew.
Alice’s eyes flared with indignation. Yet even as the group began with their admonishments, Chingachgook included, she spoke over them. “She taught me how to cut out impertinent tongues, Captain.”
Jack laughed, hands raised in surrender—and to ward off any more blows. “Well said, Miss Munro. I apologize.”
“Accepted. But you’ll have no more wine.” The bottle had just made it around the group. She took it from Ian, passing over Jack, and refilled her cup halfway.
“This is what I’ve been talking about, boys! Another example of corruption by a ruthless dictator.” Jack was back on to his political philosophies again. At least it distracted him from pestering Alice further—or so he thought.
“Goodness. You sound like a republican.”
“Call it what you like. I believe ‘That which is not just, is not Law; and that which is not Law, ought not to be obeyed.’”
He snatched the bottle and she relented. “Don’t let my father hear you quoting Sidney.”
Jack grinned. “He’s heard the like already. But I think he would be far more shocked to learn that his own daughter has been reading treasonous texts.”
She sputtered on her wine and cast a furtive glance around the campfire. She need not have worried. If anything, such habits earned her respect amongst the men here, as evidenced by their appreciative grins.
Uncas wondered how far Alice’s rebellious streak could go, then decided he had too much wine.
After the conversation devolved into politics, each man began to drift off one by one. When Chingachgook left for the barracks, Alice stood as well.
Jack snatched up the tray she had carried earlier. “Allow me.”
“That’s quite all right Captain—fƒ”
“I insist. After all, who knows what could go on in the shadows between here and the kitchen.” Suddenly, he put on an exaggerated frown. “Oh, that’s right, I have to be somewhere. Uncas, here you are!” He shoved the tray into Uncas’s hands with a clatter of dishes, leaving him no choice but to accompany Alice alone.
Not for the first time since entering the fort, Uncas was unsure if he was supposed to feel irritated or beholden to Jack.
Alice walked slowly alongside Uncas, wanting to draw out their time together as much as possible. He had been quiet, and still was; not unusual for him she supposed, but for some reason it made her nervous. She had made up for it by chattering endlessly, it seemed. She knew these men were friends of his, and wanted to make a good impression—even if Jack threw her for a loop. His flirtations didn’t seem genuine, and the way he had thrown them together just now made her wonder what other game was afoot.
Perhaps her nerves simply stemmed from the growing realization that if anything were to progress between them, she would have to be the instigator. It had become clear to her that he was far too courteous to make any advances her way, though she was sure he somehow held some interest in her. Maybe that’s what this was about.
Oh, but she couldn’t—and all too soon, they neared the kitchen. This was it, her final chance. They were lost in the shadows of the building. Could she be brave enough?
She reached for the tray. “Thank you.” Now she should set it aside and reach for him instead.
But, oh, she was a coward. In a sudden attack of shyness, she could not bear to even look at him. Instead Alice stammered a goodbye and hurried through the door.
In the kitchen, she wanted to stamp her feet and cry in frustration. If Cora and Nathaniel could be so free in front of the entire fort, why couldn’t she steal a kiss in the shadows? What alternative could feel worse than this self-imposed isolation?
With sudden resolution, she set the tray down with a clatter and bolted back out the door. Uncas was still there, but walking away.
She didn’t think. She ran to him, grabbed his arm just before he was able to step into the light. Firelight glinted off his dark eyes as he looked down at her in surprise.
There was no going back now. Her other hand reached up to his neck, thumb brushing his cheek, fingertips buried in his hair as she pulled him down to her. As their lips met, his hand moved up her arm. Alice had never felt so exhilarated in her life. She forgot all else and leaned in, deepening the kiss.
His hand gripped her shoulder and gently pushed away as his face drew back. She stumbled back, stunned. Mortification dropped on her like a lead weight as he shook his head.
“I thought—oh, my word—I’m so sorry—” she shied away, wanting to flee to some dark corner and never come out again.
His hand still gripped her shoulder. “Please, wait—”
“No need to explain—”
Uncas released her suddenly, as if he just realized he’d been holding her. He held his hands up in a placating gesture. She forced herself to still, though she kept her eyes determinedly fixed elsewhere as he spoke.
“I want to, be we can’t.”
Her eyes snapped to his and she frowned in confusion as he repeated himself.
So she wasn’t mistaken after all. A flicker of hope rekindled inside her.
“Perhaps not publicly....” Her cheeks warmed at her proposal of carrying on some secret affair. Days ago it would have been entirely unlike her, but that was before she met him. It was clearly the only thing that made sense, given the circumstances.
“Too risky. Alice. I’m an Indian, you’re Yengeese—it doesn’t happen.”
“We won’t see each other after we leave here. You’re going back to England; I’m going west. Do you understand?”
She hadn’t considered that. She hadn’t thought ahead, couldn’t even imagine a future beyond the fort. All of her efforts seemed to be focused on surviving from one moment to the next.
She forced herself to smile despite the vicelike grip in her chest. “Of course. How silly of me.”
“No, Alice....” His distress was acute. How obscene of him, to be so wonderfully compassionate as he crushed her.
“Goodnight, Uncas.” Or whatever time it was.
She picked up her skirts and hastened away. She did not stop until she reached the door to her father’s quarters.
If Cora was inside, Alice simply wouldn’t be able to stand being near her. If she was still off with Nathaniel, that might be even worse.
She turned back. Uncas was gone. After a moment, Alice walked away aimlessly. She desperately felt the need to get far away, yet here she remained trapped in this damned fort. She kept to the shadows for fear of running into Uncas again, and focused on containing every wrought emotion she possessed buried deep inside her.
She stepped around a reveler who was emptying the contents of his stomach by the barracks. An officer, she noted with vague disgust. She recognized the lieutenant as one she had been introduced to earlier that day. If Papa knew, he’d have him disciplined.
But she didn’t care about anything else right now.
Alice managed to get some sort of hold on herself and discovered that she had ended up on the opposite side of the fort. To her confusion, she thought she recognized a couple of militia soldiers slip out the sally-port one at a time. What mission could they be going on just before dawn?
She turned, habit taking over as she addressed her greeter. “Capt. Winthrop.”
“Thought you’d be busy for a while.”
His grin faltered when met with her scathing glare. She was quite sure he had tried to set up something between her and Uncas, and given the unhappy outcome, was content to foist as much blame as she could on him. She started to look back at the sally-port, but Capt. Winthrop shifted in front of her.
“It’s nearly dawn, you should get some sleep.”
“What about the militia? Aren’t they tired too?”
“Ah. We’ve got orders.”
Her eyebrows rose. Alice suspected this may be true, but that they were certainly breaking them. “And... are you joining them?”
He paused, eyes narrowing, and inclined his head.
She did not blame the militia for wanting to flee, not while their homes were being attacked. “Well then. Godspeed, Captain.” Perhaps she should place more enthusiasm in her words, but she couldn’t muster the energy.
After determining her sentiments were genuine, he relaxed. “Much obliged, miss.” After a tip of his hat, he glanced up at the ramparts.
To her surprise, Nathaniel looked down on them. He made a staying gesture and nodded behind them.
Alice turned to see a soldier on guard approaching. Did he suspect there was something amiss?
Feeling quite reckless, she moved forward. She had been wrong about her cousin earlier; Eugenie had taught Alice more than managing a household. She had also shown her how to feign a swoon magnificently.
As Alice walked by the guard, she made a sound somewhere between a cry and a gasp. Sure she had his attention, she closed her eyes, draped the back of her wrist across her face, and swayed against the soldier, who had turned to catch her.
“Miss! Are you all right?”
Before she attracted too much attention to the area, Alice stirred. “Oh my.” She peeked behind the soldier to see Capt. Winthrop still lingering by the sally-port, gaping in awe. Why hadn’t he taken the opportunity to flee? She grimaced at him and went limp again to keep the soldier’s attention on her.
She stirred once more. “La, am I worn through.” She allowed him to help her back to her feet. “Would you be so kind as to escort me to my father’s quarters?”
“Ah....” He was clearly hesitant, having a duty to patrol the fort. Time to use her trump card.
“Papa would be ever so grateful.”
As she took his arm, she glanced up at the ramparts. Nathaniel grinned at her then disappeared to look over the fleeing militia.
By the time Alice made it back to Papa’s quarter’s, her sister was inside.
“There you are! You said you were going to bring supper to the Mohicans, but Mr. Poe never got his.”
Alice mustered all of the patience and goodwill she had not to fly into a rage at her sister. “I did try, but he seemed to have disappeared.”
Cora grinned. “Oh.”
Alice stripped down to her shift and threw herself into bed, turning to stare at the wall.
“All right, Alice?”
Alice brought to mind the blank slate that was the future, and forced herself to carve an image into it.
By evening, reinforcements would be here. Eventually the fort would be saved, her Papa lauded as a hero. Cora would stay to tend the sick and injured, Nathaniel remaining by her side. Uncas would find a better life out west, and she would be packed up and shipped back to England.
Unwanted, forgotten, alone.
It wouldn’t be much different from before, really. But now that she knew what she wanted, and what she couldn’t have, her heart ached so powerfully Alice wondered that it didn’t stop beating.
Colonel Munro’s sentiments on his wife (“a saint in heaven”, etc) are paraphrased from the book when he tells Duncan the story of Alice’s mother. In addition, his view that all those of the fort could “claim alike to be his children” came from the moment Duncan called him out on not looking after his daughters himself as they were leaving the fort. I can’t recall the page numbers.
Inspiration: It Will Come Back by Hozier
You know better babe, you know better babe
Than to smile at me, smile at me like that
You know better babe, you know better babe
Than to hold me just, hold me just like that
I know who I am when I'm alone
Something else when I see you
You don't understand, you should never know
How easy you are to need
Chapter 6: Apprehension
Nathaniel is arrested.
As Alice rushed away from him, Uncas was seized by doubt until he nearly gave in and took it all back. Had he done the right thing? But before he could change his mind, he turned and made his way back to the barracks. He wondered all the while if he imagined the lingering taste of wine from Alice’s lips.
Lost in his thoughts, it wasn’t until he met his father’s meaningful gaze that he stopped to take in his surroundings. Where was everybody? Of his friends, only Sharitarish was here. His own Mohawk was limited, so Sharitarish spoke in Delaware to prevent being overheard.
“Hawkeye still off with the Yengeese girl?”
Uncas shrugged, though he was sure that was the case. It was one of the last things he wanted to think about right now. “Looks like the militia are down a few people.”
Sharitarish nodded. Though he had clearly elected to stay behind with others of his tribe, he would have been privy to talk of desertion.
Well, good for them. Uncas appreciated that they didn’t say their farewells; it would only make his family liable for not reporting their escape.
He removed his weapons before laying down on a cot, but as always, kept them within easy reach. As he closed his eyes, he was no longer able to tear his mind away from Alice.
He had been so focused on minding himself around her, that he had not been prepared for the possibility of her making the first move. As she pulled him down to her, he saw the inevitability of what would happen—and if he were being honest with himself, he had let it.
Uncas had ample opportunity to pull away before her lips brushed his, but he wanted this. Wanted her. Even as he knew he would have to stop it, he allowed himself a moment to enjoy the feel of her hand on his skin, and a single chaste kiss.
He knew breaking away from Alice would be hard—had not known it would be hard for her too. Somehow the guilt that settled on his shoulders stemmed not from having touched her, but rather, pushing her away. It was not as it should be. Uncas was finally doing the right thing... wasn’t he?
Eventually Nathaniel crept in and lay down between him and Sharitarish. Uncas did his best to ignore the stab of jealousy he felt. Logically, he knew his brother would have as little long term success with Cora as he could with Alice. Their worlds were just too far apart—not to mention Col. Munro’s open distain for Nathaniel. Yet his brother was able to lay all that aside to enjoy himself. It would be hard for him too when the moment came for him to part from Cora, Uncas suspected. But he was always able to bounce back, move on.
But Uncas was different, wanted different things. A family: a wife to come home to, and children to raise. It was not about carrying on his tribe. They would not be Mohicans; there were no Mohican women left. Whatever children he had would be of their mother’s tribe.
His parents had known each other their whole lives; had fallen in love and married young. He had hoped to to do the same. But by the time he reached twenty-five years of age with nothing to show for it, he had decided that he would just have to choose.
A Delaware woman was the most logical choice. She would speak the closest thing to his native language, and their family already had close ties with the tribe. A union would solidify the bond between the Delaware and Mohicans and and provide the social support that would be forever missing from a tribe of three men. It was a good plan, yet now the idea filled Uncas with unease.
He was just managing to doze off when the door crashed in.
“You, sir!” His eyes flew open in confusion, blinded by torchlight. Soldiers. Who were they talking to?
Nathaniel surged to his feet first, followed by his father and Sharitarish. Uncas didn’t know why the Yengeese were there, but it suddenly became clear that they were targeting his brother. He snatched up his knife and tomahawk as he lurched to his feet, ignoring the pull of his stitches.
“As you were!”
He threw himself at the Yengeese only to be held back by his brother as Chingachgook knocked aside a bayonet. Nathaniel must have known what was going on because he was telling them to stand off. He recognized Captain Beams as he growled out the same command in English, pointing his pistol at Chingachgook and Uncas in turn. It was the officer who greeted them at the sally-port when they first arrived at the fort. What was he doing?
They stood that way, the four of them against eight Yengeese soldiers. Though still seething, Uncas was filled with a fierce pride at seeing the terrified look on the soldiers’ faces. Unfortunately their nervousness might lead to a slip of a finger, and their muskets were pointed in the faces of his family.
Captain Beams held out a pair of manacles to a soldier. “Take him.”
Chingachgook addressed Nathaniel. “Why do they take my white son prisoner?”
“I helped Jack and the others leave.” He did not resist.
Foolish. Nathaniel should have told them. They would have helped, then left together.
The Captain still aimed his pistol at them. “As you were.”
“This fight is not yours. I love you and my brother...”
Uncas broke his scowl to look upon his brother in astonishment. Nathaniel was speaking as if he would never see them again.
“...and you should leave this place now.”
As if they would abandon him. As if they could.
His father stepped forward and called after Nathaniel. “What will they do with my white son?”
He received no answer as his brother was led away. But Sharitarish must have understood because after a moment he quietly spoke up in Delaware.
“Munro said the penalty for sedition is hanging.”
Chingachgook said nothing. But Uncas met his eyes and the first time in years, found fear and grief there. He was sure his betrayed the same.
They did not go back to sleep. Instead, they collected their things and followed after Captain Beams, only to be forced to wait until he returned from inside the stockade.
Without Nathaniel, Uncas spoke for them. “We demand to speak to Col. Munro.”
“The Colonel has retired for the day. You may request an audience after the siege.” He turned and walked away.
“After the... hey!” Uncas started after him.
Beams reached for his pistol and Uncas scowled in frustration. The Yengeese sure were jumpy.
“What are you going to do to him?”
“He’ll be tried properly.”
“After the siege, in Albany. This conversation is over.”
At least it wouldn’t be right away, and not here. There was still time to sort it out, if possible.
One thing was for sure. They were not going to get any sleep that day.
Uncas spotted Nathaniel behind the bars of one of the cell windows in line with the ground. He glanced at the guards to see if they were looking, then promptly approached and crouched down to meet his brother’s grin.
“Got a whole room to myself now. Should’ve been arrested sooner!”
“Silence, brother, and answer me this: what were you thinking?”
“Well, which is it? Silence or answers?” At Uncas’s stern look, Nathaniel sighed. “I wasn’t going to leave the boys unprotected!”
“And you didn’t think we’d help?”
“Of course you would, that’s the problem.”
“We could have left with them!”
“Wanted to stay. Thought you would understand, but I guess I was wrong.”
Of course he wanted to stay too—to be near Alice, to protect her and her sister. That task had not ended when they reached the fort only to find it under siege. The waspish remark cut deeper than Nathaniel could know, but Uncas didn’t want to divulge any of what happened between himself and Alice. He masked his pain with more anger instead. “Stay to do what? Keep sneaking off from the parade ground together until you earned Munro’s blessing?”
“Then what, convince her to run off with you to Can-tuck-ee? Trade a manor full of servants for a corner of a longhouse?”
Nathaniel shook his head in frustration and glared at Uncas. “I love her. She loves me too.”
“Now she can mourn your corpse. Very romantic, brother.”
Uncas looked away, running his hand over his head as he tried to get a grip on himself. When he looked back, Nathaniel was leaning his forehead against the bars, shoulders sagging.
Guilt pierced through Uncas. He glanced around the interior of Nathaniel’s cell, confirming that it was very much surrounded in iron. “Listen. Can’t do anything while you’re locked up, but you’ll be tried in Albany.”
Nathaniel looked up at him, frowning.
“Plenty of opportunity for distractions between here and there. We’ll figure it out.”
“If it were one of us, would you leave us behind?”
“Then be quiet.”
To his surprise, Nathaniel obliged. After a moment, he squinted at Uncas. “So... you saw us sneak off then?”
He sighed. “Everybody saw, brother. Militia, Mohawks, her sister, our father, everybody.”
Nathaniel nodded, ducked to hide his smile, then snorted with laughter. “Guess I slipped up.”
“Yes, you did.” Uncas shook his head at the understatement, but allowed himself a begrudging smile. It was difficult to stay angry with Nathaniel for long.
“Hey!” The guards had finally caught sight of him. What did he think Uncas was going to do, hand his brother his tomahawk so he could try hacking at the iron bars?
Uncas sighed, stood, and walked away.
Alice tried to ignore Cora’s incessant cheerfulness as they brushed each other’s hair.
“What a gorgeous day!”
“Too bad we slept through most of it.”
“It is, isn’t it?”A pause. “Alice?”
When Cora suddenly turned serious, Alice nearly started in alarm. “Mmm?”
“I’m afraid I had to formally end things with Duncan last night.”
“Yes, I presumed so.”
“I do hope you’re not cross with me. I know how very... particularly fond you are of him.”
“What? No...” Alice frowned, trying to clear her sleep-addled mind. “Cora—what are you implying?”
“Oh, nothing, of course.” Cora’s flippancy made the lie obvious.
With frustration, Alice realized that further denials would just make it worse. Of course, Alice certainly had strong feelings for Duncan once, but that had been a holdover from childhood infatuation.
Her cheeks flamed with the knowledge of how obvious she had been about her affections back then. She’d also paid him particular attention on the journey here. No wonder Cora thought her in love with him or some such.
“Alice?” Another tentative question.
She braced herself. “Yes?”
“What do you think of Mr. Poe?”
Alice glanced at her sister in surprise. Cora never opened up to her like this, and her hopeful gaze made it seem like she was actually searching for approval from her.
“His sense of humor terrifies me as much as his wrath. But... he’s a good man. And brave.” She thought of the way he had helped his friends escape last night. Though perfectly illegal, it had seemed an honorable thing to do—nothing like her feminine theatrics. He could have been arrested, whereas the most she risked was being dismissed as the silly Colonel’s daughter.
“He’s full of spirit.” As Cora smiled, her eyes went distant. “And you don’t think... given his family...”
“His family is the best part about him.” Alice felt herself becoming wistful as well. As Cora beamed at her, she hurried on. “But I doubt Papa would be of the same mind.”
“Good heavens, no.” Cora laughed. “They couldn’t get on worse.”
At least she didn’t seem to care. Alice smiled reluctantly.
“Hurry up, and we’ll bring them breakfast. Supper?” She gazed out at the lowering sun.
“Why don’t you go on ahead? I’m still getting ready.”
In truth, Alice very much wanted to avoid Uncas at the moment and needed time to collect herself. Ultimately she knew she would act with the propriety expected of her.
Cora hurried from the room, no doubt eager to find Nathaniel, and Alice sighed in relief. As she dressed, she strove not to daydream over a stolen kiss or wallow over its terrible end.
Glancing at her father’s desk, she paused, remembering a conversation from last night with the Mohawk chief. In a sudden burst of energy, she riffled through folios of papers until she found what she was looking for: a missive dated from last spring. A quick scan of it made her heart drop. She reread it, forcing the details to stay in her mind.
Col. Munro led a joint expedition with Mohawk allies into Canada. The objective was to rescue eleven British prisoners being held in a Huron village. The end result: thirty to forty Indians killed, seventeen British soldiers killed, thirteen wounded, and only seven prisoners recovered. A Lt. David Ashton was to receive a commendation for his actions.
Ashton? She recalled the pitiful creature that was sick by the barracks the night before. And how could they not know exactly how many people they killed? Details were missing. She would have to ask for more.
A knock sounded on the door as Duncan asked for the room. She hastily replaced the papers before he entered, features grave.
“Ah, Alice. I apologize for ousting you last night, it was poorly done.” At her polite dismissal, he added: “I fear I must do the same again, you understand.”
She nodded, studying his face. The man looked completely exhausted. “Are you all right?”
Another lie, but Alice respected his privacy. Though she was still terribly disappointed in his behavior at the fort, she imagined his heart ached as much as hers at the moment. Moreso, as he had been in love with Cora for ages. Did she even have a right to pine over Uncas, knowing him for only days?
He stood awkwardly, waiting for the other officers to arrive as Alice collected herself to leave. “You seem to be holding up better now.”
“Certainly.” They exchanged a weak smile, each acknowledging what the other had meant.
She glanced out the window where activity was as usual in the fort. Again, she felt that plummeting sensation in her chest. “Have reinforcements not arrived yet?”
Duncan shook his head. “Webb must be taking his time. But as long as they arrive tomorrow, we should be in the clear.”
“Why would he delay?”
“He could be waiting on additional forces to arrive at Edward. Not that he needs to. So the real answer is: his utter ineptitude.”
Alice smiled, appreciating the rare moment of candor. But then... “I don’t think he likes Papa very much. He always calls him ‘The Scotsman’ in the most derisive manner.” Would Webb’s prejudice be strong enough to withhold troops?
Duncan tilted his head. He must have heard the same. But before they could continue, Papa walked into the room. He sighed, no doubt taking in their sudden silence and serious expressions.
“So you’ve heard about your Mohican friend.”
“What?!” Alice froze, her mind racing. Had something happened to Uncas?
He frowned and Duncan shook his head. Papa was forced to explain. “Some of the militia deserted before dawn, assisted by one Mr. Poe. He’s been arrested for sedition.”
Alice gaped at him. Sedition was a hanging offense. “No—but, Papa—“
He held up a hand tiredly, as if long expecting this. “I know he helped you, dear. But this is the law.”
She realized Duncan was leading her to the door by her elbow, herding her out. “No, wait—how do you know it was him for certain?”
“I could have had him arrested the moment he spoke seditious words at our meeting. But last night a group of his friends subdued my Lieutenant. To be frank, I’m no longer feeling very lenient towards Mr. Poe.”
But Alice had been there and hadn’t witnessed any violence. She racked her mind for an explanation and her eyes widened. “Not Lt. Ashton?”
He nodded in affirmation.
The lieutenant hadn’t been accosted; he’d been tossing his supper behind the barracks. But of course he couldn’t admit to being otherwise incapacitated, and she couldn’t admit to having been there. Even if Papa didn’t punish her, he’d only blame Nathaniel further for involving her.
As Duncan closed the outer door behind her, she spotted her sister and started. Cora had no idea. Alice wasn’t sure of the extent of her feelings for Nathaniel, but her sister’s clear affections for the man were above and beyond anything else she had witnessed from her. Duncan had been her intended for ages, and their courtship was very proper.
“Cora, wait!” She ran after her sister, but she was already approaching Uncas and Chingachgook with their meal. By the time Alice had reached them, they had already informed her sister of the bad news.
“What?!” Cora turned wide eyes to Alice. She nodded in confirmation, then watched as Cora snatched up her skirts and bolted for the stockade, leaving Alice alone with Uncas and Chingachgook.
Guilt gripped her. This family had saved their lives, and now her father had condemned Nathaniel to die. She could not bring herself to look them in the eyes as she silently took over the distribution of their food, leaving one serving of chowder and cornbread on the tray.
“I’ll bring Nathaniel his share.”
“Wait.” Uncas’s voice.
She halted, heart pounding in fear of what was coming next. Anger? Blame? She turned her head just enough to watch Uncas dig through Nathaniel’s pack and pull out his brother’s shirt and leather belt. “Can you take these too?”
“Of course.” She watched as he placed Nathaniel’s things on the tray. Had her father’s men not even the decency to allow Nathaniel to dress before hauling him away?
She stopped again, hesitant.
She walked away without a word, her mind a tangle of confusion. Alice deserved no thanks. She didn’t know how Uncas managed to be so polite given the circumstances. If he hadn’t realized that saving her life wasn’t worth all this bother before, how could he do anything but hate her now? Perhaps she shouldn’t be surprised at his decency. He was a remarkable man.
As Alice approached the stockade, she was relieved the guards opened the door for her without a fuss. Cora was near the end of the corridor, speaking fiercely to Nathaniel through the bars.
“I don’t care who knows, let them talk!”
So focused was she on not spilling anything, that Alice didn’t realize Cora and Nathaniel were locked in a passionate embrace until she approached them. Their arms were threaded through the bars of the cell door in a tangle of limbs, their mouths intertwined. And of course, Nathaniel’s shirt was still on Alice’s tray, not on his person.
She began to back up slowly when Cora pulled away from Nathaniel.
“I’ll speak with my father.”
Nathaniel reached out and clutched her hands. “No. I don’t want you to get involved.”
“Anything that involves you, involves me too.”
They began to kiss again and Alice cleared her throat softly.
Cora broke away from Nathaniel once more. “Thank you, Alice.” She rushed away without embarrassment—only determination.
Alice approached Nathaniel and held the tray out awkwardly, making a point not to look at his bare chest. If she hadn’t just seen his tongue in her sister’s mouth, it would not have been so unsettling.
“Your affects, Mr. Poe.”
“I think given my familiarity with your sister, you can call me Nathaniel now, don’t you?” She could hear the smile in his voice as he put on his shirt and belt.
“Ugh.” She grimaced but ultimately couldn’t hold back a small smile of her own. Privately, she realized she’d been thinking of him by his first name for a while, just like his family. “Very well.” She paused, suddenly anxious again. “Look, I want you to know, it wasn’t me—I didn’t say—“
Nathaniel shook his head at her and gestured around them. They could easily be overheard. He approached the bars again so they could talk in lowered voices. “I know. Some lieutenant.”
Alice scowled, releasing her frustration in an angry whisper. “That odious toad. I saw him casting up his accounts behind the barracks. I didn’t even think....”
Nathaniel seemed to be enjoying her tirade, as his eyes crinkled with amusement. But his tone was serious. “He may have seen you too.”
Alice nearly laughed. “And what will he do, tell Papa I abetted by swooning? Not if he wants to keep his commission.” He shrugged, ceding the point, and she glanced down at the bowl of chowder she carried. “I don’t think you’ll be able to fit this through the bars I’m afraid. I didn’t think of that.”
“Then you’d better bring me another one.”
Her eyes widened. “Of course.”
“It was a joke, Alice.” He reached through the bars and held the bowl in one hand, and spoon in the other.
“Oh. Right.” Her face heated.
She stood holding the tray awkwardly as he ate and scrutinized her between bites. Eventually she tired of his noisy slurps and frowned in consternation. He responded by discarding the spoon entirely and drinking from the bowl. Simply to vex her, she was sure. At least he wasn’t angry.
Suddenly, he looked intent. “Do me a favor?”
“Send a message to my family. They won’t let them in, or near the bars.” He nodded to his window.
“All right, what’s the message?”
Did it have to be in Mohican? But, she supposed he had a right to privacy. After she had the message down to his satisfaction, she exchanged his cornbread for the empty bowl and returned to his family.
Uncas shared a startled glance with his father.
“Can you repeat that?”
Alice did so.
She helped us. Watch over her.
How was this possible? Didn’t he see her enter her father’s quarters last night? No—he only watched her leave. He had done the same before his temptation to change his mind won out and made him stop her.
After a moment, she shifted uncomfortably. “Did I not say it right?”
“How did you help them, Alice?”
She froze. “What? What did I say?”
He raised his eyebrows, waiting.
“Ugh—Nathaniel, I’ll kill him.” Her eyes widened in horror as she realized the meaning of her words.
Before Uncas could assure her they meant to do the same, Cora came bursting out of her father’s quarters in tears. His heart sank. She barreled into Alice and flung her arms around her sister, sobbing. It had obviously not gone well.
Uncas realized then that he had been holding out hope that Munro’s daughter could sway his mind. But of course, once the man had arrested Nathaniel publicly, there was no going back.
He studied Alice’s retreating back after her sister rushed back to the stockade. What could she have done to help the militia leave? And what kind of danger was she in? Her refusal to confide in him cut deep. Did she not trust him? She seemed angry with him, at the very least.
A minute later, Uncas crouched down in front of the bars of his brother’s cell window and spoke in Mohican, ignoring Cora beyond the cell door.
“Brother, what have you dragged the Doe into?”
Nathaniel stood from his cot to meet him, and replied in kind. “I didn’t drag her into anything, she was just there!”
Uncas scooped up a pebble and pelted it at him.
Nathaniel narrowed his eyes, but there was a hint of laughter behind them. “What, she hasn’t told you herself?”
The last thing Uncas wanted to do was tell Nathaniel what occurred between him and Alice. “You tell me.”
His brother shrugged. “She was talking to Jack. Must have caught on, so she distracted a guard.”
“Fell right into him, playing possum. Maybe that’s what we should call her instead.” Nathaniel grinned and Uncas pelted him with another pebble. This time he was prepared for it; he swatted it away and it hit the bars with a clang.
“He caught on?”
“No, even walked her back to Munro’s room. But listen, this lieutenant that reported me—“
“Back off!” A guard approached, fingering his musket.
Uncas had no choice but to stand and walk away once more. But to his surprise, Cora soon joined him and his father, and she was in a temper.
“I can’t believe them.”
Nathaniel must have informed her of the situation. Good. Uncas nodded in commiseration.
“I would have helped!”
He stared at her incredulously. “Aren’t you worried for your sister?”
“Alice? Nonsense. Who’d suspect a thing of that child? But she deserves a good scolding for keeping me in the dark, where is she?”
As Cora stalked away, Uncas threw Chingachgook a bewildered look, expecting sympathy. To add to his confusion, his father seemed almost amused.
“Has Wah’s spirit.”
The intrepid Cora Munro was indeed like his mother. No wonder Nathaniel liked her.
As Alice got to work in the infirmary, she didn’t notice her sister enter until she pulled her aside.
“Alice, dear, how could you? And without letting me know?”
Alice started guiltily. It was as she feared; now everyone would know her humiliation. “He told you?”
“Yes, and apparently you put on quite a show.”
Alice gaped. She’d never expect Uncas to divulge what had happened between them, or to describe her thusly. But perhaps he was right. Of course he would think her a wanton now.
“Sounded to me like one of Eugenie’s tricks,” her sister continued. Their married cousin made secret advances on other men? “To be honest, I’m impressed.”
“What? You’re not upset?”
“It was quick thinking. What else could you do but throw yourself into his arms?”
Alice stared at the ground, unable to respond past her embarrassment. If Cora were angry, that she could understand.
“At least the men got away. I just wish Nathaniel...” she trailed off, tears beginning to pool in her eyes.
Alice frowned in confusion then wilted in relief as she realized Cora was not talking about Uncas. It was short lived, however, as the import of Cora’s words hit her.
“I’m so sorry, Cora.” She embraced her sister, not knowing what else to say. If Uncas were condemned to die, she’d be devastated.
Cora kept disappearing to visit Nathaniel throughout the night, leaving Alice to assist Mr. Phelps alone. Though she was no replacement for Cora, she and Mr. Phelps worked out a system that suited them both. Alice mostly ran errands, but eventually became competent enough to treat small cuts and scrapes despite her squeamish reluctance. She managed by looking at blood as little as possible, and retreated to the store room each time the screams and shelling got to be unbearable.
The small store room held crates of the surgery’s most valuable items, such as tinctures and alcohol, and was an excellent place to be alone. Mr. Phelps was the only other person allowed inside, and even he didn’t enter when Alice was there to fetch him things.
So she was Alice to Mr. Phelps now. It felt like a commendation. She looked up with a smile only to find Lt. Ashton, of all people, standing with him. She obeyed silently, hiding her confusion as she disappeared into the store room.
Alice pulled a bottle from a crate and returned to find Lt. Ashton alone, Mr. Phelps attending to business elsewhere. She handed the bottle to the Lieutenant as he watched her speculatively. Did he know that she had helped the militia escape last night?
“I’d like to have a word with you, Lieutenant, if you have the time.” She could finally get a first hand account of the expedition that ultimately sent Magua after her and her sister.
“Is that so?” He raised his eyebrows in the pompous manner of a coxcomb back in London, as if to say: I would be shocked, if I weren’t so bored. She guessed he must be a younger son of a lord or some such.
“If you don’t mind.”
“Very well. I’ll find you later tonight.”
Alice had hoped to get this over with now, but she was at the mercy of his schedule.
His departing smile made her skin crawl. Perhaps it was simply because she already despised him for reporting Nathaniel, but still, she wondered if she had made a mistake.
Alice tracked down Mr. Phelps. “Why did that man need rum?”
“Received a beating last night—it’s for the pain.” He lowered his voice. “Not much in the way of marks on him, mind you. Our men here are made of sterner stuff. But that’s an officer for you, eh?” He chuckled at his own joke before seeming to recall whose daughter she was. “Oh, not that officers... You know...”
Alice smiled. “I understand you perfectly, Mr. Phelps.”
As the green of his shirt became stained through with red, Uncas realized he could no longer put off having his bandage changed. He approached the infirmary to see Alice handing an officer a bottle of rum, followed by a brief exchange of words.
He didn’t appreciate the way the man looked at her.
Curiosity got the better of him and he remained in the shadows outside. Hadn’t Nathaniel mentioned a lieutenant? He watched the officer take a generous swig as he left, presumably to return to duty.
A nearby militiaman confirmed him to be a Lt. Ashton. Uncas resolved to keep an eye on him—but first he’d ask Cora to change his bandage.
He entered the infirmary only to find Phelps instead. To his surprise, he called for Alice. “Fresh bandage.”
Alice stilled when she saw him. She looked down at his bloodied shirt, and Mr. Phelps left them to it as Uncas approached cautiously.
“The stockade, I believe.” She turned to collect some bandages.
“You don’t have to—“
“I don’t mind,” she cut in, then paused. “Unless... if you don’t want me to, of course.”
Uncas didn’t respond, but hoisted himself onto the table behind her. Alice turned to face him, waiting expectantly until he lifted his shirt. She blushed and glanced away before seemingly forcing herself to look at the bloodied bandage.
Using economical movements, she plucked the strip of cloth from the other side of his waist, her fingers brushing against his skin with a feather light touch. She then carefully cut it away with a small knife.
“Has it been bleeding this much the whole time?”
As the dressing fell away she quickly dabbed a prepared rag over his wound, then glanced beneath it briefly. “You should mind the stitches.”
He smiled, enjoying being fussed over by her. “Yes, miss.”
She glanced up at him with a slight frown. Did she think he was mocking her? It seemed he could say nothing right. She pressed a clean rag to his wound and he held it there, his fingers brushing hers as he spoke so quietly only she could hear. “Please don’t be angry with me, Alice.”
She stilled, her arm remaining outstretched as she met his gaze and answered just as quietly. “I’m not. Aren’t you angry with me?”
She turned away, picking up a strip of cloth. “My father...”
“... is not you. Nathaniel’s fault for getting involved.” At her silence, he continued. “Alice, if that Lieutenant is bothering you—“
“He’s not.” She hesitated with the bandage that needed to be tied around his waist.
Uncas wordlessly exchanged roles with her, Alice holding the dressing still while he wound the bandage around himself. Still, he made a point to hold her gaze. “You can trust me.”
“I know.” She blushed and looked back down at the wound she covered. “Truly he’s not, I just wanted to...”
She trailed off as he secured the cloth and looked up in time to see Alice glance over his body. Her eyes widened as they met his, blush deepening as if she had been caught doing something sinful. Perhaps that was it was to her, yet he made no effort to hide his own longing as he studied her face. By denying her, telling her they couldn’t be together, had he contributed to that shameful attitude?
Her gaze lowered to his mouth and away as she briskly turned to wipe her hands, though she hadn’t touched any blood. “You should drop off your shirt at the laundry. The sooner you do, the easier they’ll get the blood out.”
He watched her sort strips of cloth until Phelps called her away again. There was an awkward rift between them now, something Uncas was unable to fix with words. Maybe he couldn’t get too close to Alice anymore, but nothing would prevent him from looking out for her.
I’m not sure what Michael Mann intended for Sharitarish, but I assume him to be a Mohawk despite his Pawnee name. (Because why would a Plains Indian be in New York?) “Chingachgook” is sort of Lenape and “Uncas” is Mohegan, so I’m thinking we can let the name’s origin slide.
Lt. David Ashton is our first original character. He’s based off of a couple 18th century soldiers, more details to follow in future chapters.
Inspiration: The Trouble with Wanting by Joy Williams
Wondering what's gone wrong with me
And try not to try
Swayed by the wind
Swayed by desire
Can't reach the moon up above
And I don't dare touch the fire
'Cause the trouble with wanting is I want you
The trouble with wanting is I want you
The trouble with wanting is I want you
And I want you all the time
Chapter 7: The Cost of War
Alice pieces together what happened to Magua, and Uncas helps in the defense of the fort.
TW: Graphic violence
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
7 August (before dawn)
Uncas eyed his cot with longing, but knew the near constant shelling would be too strong to grant him rest until morning.
He changed out of his bloodstained green shirt and into his fresh maroon one, fingers brushing over the tear Alice had mended as he tugged it down. He took a moment to examine the neat row of stitches, letting his mind wander. He imagined what Alice would have been doing a week ago: quietly working on embroidery, unaware that she’d soon be using the same skills on an Indian’s shirt, courtesy of a bayonet.
Uncas dropped his hand and exited the barracks to find the laundry.
He left his green shirt with a middle-aged Scotswoman who seemed in charge. She paid him little heed until she eyed the shirt he wore in surprise, looking down at the stitches and back up again.
“Good to see your shirt properly mended, sir.”
She must have somehow recognized it from the wash days before. Unsure of what was truly being said, let alone the proper response, he simply nodded.
The woman appeared speculative, and a couple more laundresses began whispering to each other: one giggling, the other rolling her eyes dismissively. Realizing he was somehow attracting attention, Uncas left immediately.
What was that about?
“Uncas. We need some assistance.”
He turned to find William, now appointed captain of the militia, with Sharitarish beside him. At Uncas’s questioning look, he explained.
“About to put up another stand and we need more cover from above.”
He and Sharitarish explained the plan. It was a wild, desperate attempt to do something to halt the enemy’s progress by whatever means possible. But Uncas’s role was straightforward.
He sighed. “Sounds like a job for Nathaniel.”
William grunted. “Well, we’ve got you.”
Both Uncas and Sharitarish turned skeptical looks on him.
“Full confidence, of course.” William held no change in expression, as if the responsibility of taking over the militia mid-siege gave him no energy to commit to humor.
Uncas let out an amused chuff and nodded. He tracked down his father, explaining the situation as he took Nathaniel’s rifle. Chingachgook offered his own rifle as well, and stood to join him.
“I’ll reload for you.”
Uncas agreed, though coming from his father, it was a statement rather than a request. It felt like a strange role reversal, but Uncas knew his eyesight was better—and if he trusted anyone to load a rifle with speed and accuracy, it was the man who taught him to use one.
As they collected additional powder and shot, Uncas pondered why he hadn’t been invited to join the Mohawks in the fight on the ground. Sharitarish had every reason not to, he supposed. It could be a lack of confidence in him due to his injury or lost sleep, or simply because they didn’t want to risk Chingachgook’s only other son.
Any of these were good reasons not to bring him along. Yet it didn’t feel right to remain in the walls of the fort when others were fighting out there. If Uncas was known for anything, it was his speed on foot. He was a decent shot, as any self-respecting hunter would be—even a good one with Killdeer. But not great. Not like Nathaniel.
Uncas and his father stationed themselves on the western bastion along with the cannons and the other sharpshooters: a motley combination of militia, rangers, and other soldiers.
He waited until the Mohawks and Highlanders moved and artillery ceased, then began firing on the French line 240 yards out. Nathaniel would be able to pick them off, but Uncas knew he’d probably only hit every other target. Still, the errant shots might be enough to encourage the French to keep their heads down long enough for their side to advance easily.
Once they engaged the French at the foremost siege line, Uncas held off, waiting until he’d get a clean shot once more. He let out an exasperated breath as he saw some Mohawks take scalps, as if time wasn’t of the essence during the distraction. But soon enough the Rangers had poured in from the south, as marked by the series of small explosions. The largest among them had been chosen as grenadiers, with focus on destroying the foremost pickets and artillery weapons from behind and hopefully filling in some trenches while they were at it.
If they were lucky, the French would be set back enough to put off their final bombardment by one more night. Otherwise, it would arrive within 24 hours.
Uncas resumed cover fire as the Highlanders and Mohawks retreated. A few enterprising Abenaki and Frenchmen gave chase, and he had to pause and readjust as the Indian he aimed for stumbled and fell back from a shot to the shoulder.
The reason Uncas had been chosen to cover the courier the other night was because of how well he and his brother worked in tandem. Each could sense the others’ intent, take one look at the situation to determine when and where to expect the other to fire the next shot. Tonight it was a free-for-all, and as Uncas fired Killdeer, he felt his brother’s absence all the more acutely.
An explosion rocked the bastion; Uncas and Chingachgook ducked instinctively as shrapnel tore through the air, though they managed to be protected by the cannon nearest them. Ears ringing, Uncas turned to see the French had managed a direct hit on another cannon.
One more down, ten to go.
Steps from him a soldier lay sprawled out on the ground, apparently having been tossed over the cannon. Someone shouted orders which Uncas ignored as he dropped Nathaniel’s rifle and turned the man over, only to find that the side of his head had been bludgeoned beyond all recognition.
A couple rasps of air marked the final moments of the soldier’s life. Uncas murmured a small prayer and was glad for the relatively swift end; not only to ease his suffering, but also because Alice would not have to see this in the infirmary.
The crack of a musket being fired beside him brought Uncas back to reality. He turned to see his father had taken over in his stead. With more than a little shame, he moved to assist in reloading, but Chingachgook held him off with a wave of the hand.
“It is finished.”
Uncas collected the rifles in silence while others hauled the body away, making room for a team to operate the cannon. He knew full well that he had not reacted as a warrior should just now. A glance out the neighboring embrasure, and he was further disheartened to see there was little to show for their efforts. The French might be delayed by an hour, perhaps two; enough to halt the siege for this night, but they would still be able to bring their mortars within range the next.
Finally, he turned to find his father watching him.
“Tonight was not about taking lives, my son. It was about protecting them.”
Why did his father talk to him like he understood? Why didn’t he scold him like he deserved? Like the first time Uncas had taken a man’s life—his joy at finding himself alive and victorious dissipating moments later as he looked upon the dead Huron. Uncas had stood still while others fought on, feeling the horror of what he had done to another person.
There had been nothing he could do for the soldier now being carried away. The only lives he could protect had been on the ground, yet his instinct had been to abandon them.
“Miss Munro, your father requests your company.”
Lt. Ashton’s eyes gleamed in a way Alice had not seen earlier—now that she looked for it, she could see the drink at work. He offered his arm as if they were out for a stroll through a garden. She hesitated, then decided it would do her well not to be rude and accepted it, her fingertips barely brushing his sleeve.
As he took a detour towards a barracks doorway she halted. The Lieutenant looked down on her and smiled sardonically.
“Why, Miss Munro. Did you not want to speak privately?”
Alice walked alongside the building to a point where they still could be seen, but have fewer passersby to overhear them. “This will do, Lieutenant.”
“Then what is this about?” he demanded abruptly, with the manner of one who’s time was being wasted. Perhaps he had expected something a little more licentious. She was happy to correct that assumption.
“I understand you were involved in an expedition to a Huron village last spring.”
The unexpected topic of conversation managed to hold his interest. “Yes, rather eventful, wasn’t it? I led the attack.”
He puffed himself up a bit and Alice had to refrain from rolling her eyes. “I was under the impression my father led it.”
“The entire expedition, yes. Why don’t you ask him about it? Or...” He leaned in conspiratorially. “Could it be that you are hiding something from your Papa, Miss Munro? I can’t imagine what secrets you have.”
Her face heated at his blatant sarcasm, sure he was referencing her aid to the deserters last night. She would have to steer clear of that topic. “You’re the one who received commendations for your heroism, Lieutenant. I was rather hoping to hear the story from you directly.”
The flattery reeled him in, the success of which no doubt aided by his inebriation. “Before I came to his rescue, you mean?” At Alice’s blank stare, he sighed. “Do you really know nothing? Your father engaged the raiding party that had been dispatched the day before, while I was tasked with the rescue of the prisoners and destruction of the outpost.”
“Outpost? Was it not a village?”
He shrugged. “No difference for their kind. It’s where they held captives from the surrender of Ft. Miller.”
She eyed him balefully, a fear of hers practically confirmed. “So my father fought their warriors while you attacked their women and children.”
“Well, you know what they say, nits will be lice.”
He winked then chuckled at her disgusted expression.
“Come now, Miss Munro. They weren’t all women and children. And it’s not like we didn’t give them the chance to flee, the stupid beggars. Most did, but some decided to quiver in their hovels.”
Over the officer’s shoulder she could see Uncas approaching, no doubt to put an end to the conversation. She just needed a moment longer. Alice frowned then gave him a small shake of the head while Lt. Ashton continued happily.
“Quite ridiculous, really, but you can’t expect higher thought from savages. We even gave a go at flushing them out. But when we were fired upon from the cover of the trees, engaging became a fruitless endeavor, so I set the boys to kindling.”
Alice swallowed, barreling through the implication that those in their homes had burned alive. She needed no more details on their final moments. “And for all this you received a hero’s commendation?”
“Followed through on my orders, didn’t I? And in no time at all. Good thing, too, because your father was well overrun once we returned to him. Many dead or fled—he himself bleeding out from that bullet’s graze to the neck.”
She stared at him in shock. He seemed not to notice as he stroked his chin, musing. “Course, we did lose a few prisoners in the confusion, bloody shame that.”
“Papa almost died?”
“That’s right, I saved his life. If anything, you should be supplicating yourself before me, Miss Munro.”
She stumbled back from him in disgust and hurried away to her father’s quarters, ignoring his protests.
“But I didn’t even get to the best part!”
Uncas and Chingachgook joined the Mohawks after the assault, scalps set out to dry by the campfire in triumph as the Mohicans cleaned their firearms. Though each were silent by custom, Uncas kept to himself out of disgrace. He had been asked to cover the others, and had let them down.
Uncas glanced up from his musket every so often as Sharitarish reenacted his part of the battle, attempting to give his friend the attention his story deserved. But soon he was further distracted by the sight of Alice by the barracks, stiffly walking with her hand on Lt. Ashton’s arm.
He dropped his gaze, continuing to wipe down his musket as he considered what to do next. Once a couple more glances at Alice’s face confirmed the conversation was deteriorating, he quietly stood, surreptitiously checking that his knife and tomahawk were still on him.
Despite the soft warning, Chingachgook made no attempt to stop him. Uncas nodded reassuringly. He would not do something stupid enough to leave his father childless.
He attempted to exude calm as he approached Alice and the Lieutenant. Uncas wasn’t sure what he was going to do to rescue her from the situation, but he figured he could come up with a quiet excuse. However, she caught his eye over the Lieutenant’s shoulder and gave a tiny frown. He stopped in his tracks, frustration threatening to overtake him. A second glance his way and a nearly imperceptible shake of the head caused Uncas to reluctantly back off.
Clearly, whatever she was doing, she did not want his involvement. Perhaps he would only complicate things, make the situation worse.
He leaned against the barracks, composing his face into a blank mask, though his eyes continued to bore into the man’s back. Even if he hadn’t been upsetting Alice, the officer was responsible for his brother’s incarceration and eventual execution. If he were an Indian, Uncas would challenge him. But the Yengeese had a different sense of honor, and an Indian’s threat of violence would only end with him in manacles.
A moment later, Alice rushed off to her father’s quarters, hiding herself away from both of them.
“But I didn’t even get to the best part!”
Chuckling to himself, Ashton fumbled with his waistcoat before turning toward the wall to take a swig from a flask. As he replaced it, he spotted Uncas with a startled lurch. The Mohican watched on impassively.
“What are you looking at?”
Uncas did not respond. Ashton squinted at him.
“You’re friends with that cur that’s meant to dangle, aren’t you?”
The Lieutenant had just confirmed how very badly Uncas wanted to strike him down. Instead, he answered simply.
“Brother?” Ashton chortled. “I’ll wager your father was surprised.”
Without a response, Ashton simply laughed again and went on his way. Uncas watched him disappear into the officers’ quarters before returning to the others.
He cleaned their firearms with singular focus until a bowl of gruel was shoved into his hands, to be tackled with the same methodical intensity. Soon his father suggested they retire early. Knowing that he was unneeded anywhere in this fort, Uncas agreed.
Papa sat at the table, alone. Alice avoided staring at his neck and took her seat with resolution.
“Your sister’s not joining us?”
She glanced at the empty chair. “I believe she’s preoccupied.”
“Visiting Mr. Poe again.”
He must have been informed by the guards. Alice nodded, and her father sighed.
“Is this all to antagonize Duncan?” He sounded reluctant to ask, having little to do with his daughters’ suitors beyond granting Duncan permission to court Cora.
“Truly attached, is she?”
Alice nodded again.
“Damn. Of all the blasted men in this fort, why him?” Her father growled out the words, his frustration evident.
The question was rhetorical, but Alice answered it anyway. “He’s a good man.” Honest, unlike some people.
Papa waved his hand dismissively. “He’s a malcontent.”
An idea struck Alice. “He’s a Mohican, and should not be subject to British law.”
“Whatever he calls himself, he was born an Englishman.”
“But the Mohicans consider him family; it would not do to upset our allies.”
“We have no treaty with their tribe—they are here solely at my leave.”
Alice opened her mouth to speak, but her father cut in.
“—And such presence, I might add, places them under martial law.”
“Even so, is it in the best interest of the Crown to risk the ire of an entire tribe?” She looked down at her plate as she spoke, knowing full well how few Mohicans were left to make this a creditable threat.
“A tribe of three?” He gave her a wry smile. “Certainly.”
Of course—Duncan must have informed him of their background. She felt her face warm at being caught in the prevarication, but pressed on, grasping for another argument that would give her purchase.
“Chingachgook is their chief. Should not his sons be considered princes, and given due reverence?”
“Princes.” Papa chuckled and threw down his napkin. “My dear, if you were born a man you’d make a formidable barrister.”
She sat up straight, brightening.
He fixed an eye on her. “No. That’s not how it works for Indians. And releasing Mr. Poe is out of the question.”
Alice sagged back into her chair.
“However, these are all arguments he’s free to make at his trial.”
She stared at her food, glum. “He won’t win a trial.”
“No, because he’s guilty. And if he was a man worthy of my daughter’s affections, he would not have broken the law.”
Her father continued to eat as they drifted off into silence. Alice caught herself staring at the scar on his neck as he chewed.
“Papa. Why didn’t you tell us you almost died?”
He paused but continued eating. “That is an exaggeration.”
She nodded to his neck. “If the bullet were a hair’s breadth over, it would be an understatement.”
He placed his fork down, giving her his full attention. “I didn’t want you to worry, girl.”
“Because I can’t handle it?”
“Because you shouldn’t have to carry that burden to begin with. It’s a risk I accepted when I chose to serve my king. Now where did you hear of it?”
“The distinguished Lt. Ashton, whom you should know is a jug-bitten lout.”
He grimaced. “I had Phelps provide him with alcohol to aid in his recovery. Perhaps that was hastily done.”
“I believe he’d have found a way, regardless.”
Papa frowned and leaned forward. “Was he impertinent with you?”
“Said something about nits making lice.”
Her father relaxed back into his seat, but still looked troubled. “Well, that’s soldiers’ talk for you. Bound to come across it here.”
“You agree with him, then?”
“Don’t be obscene, girl.” He frowned, examining his glass of wine as he spoke. “Lt. Ashton has shown exemplary service. He survived the attack on Fort Miller and was ransomed back to us. It’s... given him impetus.”
“And that justifies the murder of women and children in this war?”
He clenched his jaw and hesitated, as if choosing his words. Alice wondered if he was going to lie to her, but they both knew she had already learned the truth. “That was not done deliberately.”
“Setting fire to their homes while they’re still inside sounds awfully deliberate to me.”
“The village was a staging point for raids, Alice. It had to be sacked. Those inside should have had time to flee. But the French had just sent them a shipment of powder, which they stored in their homes. We had no way of knowing.” He started in on his food again. “That is the price of war here. It is not your concern.”
“On the contrary, I believe it should be everybody’s concern. Especially that they have retaliated in kind.”
“Retaliation? It’s been over a year since the expedition.”
“Do you think they forgot the loss of their families? A Huron spent all that time gaining the trust of his captors, infiltrating this fort, and waiting until the moment you sent for us to make his move. That’s blood vengeance, Papa. And no how much you assure me everything is all right, it does not make it so.”
She stood and collected her untouched food along with her sister’s.
“I’m taking this to Cora.” She spat out the words as if daring him to challenge her.
He did not.
Not wanting to intrude on their privacy, Alice dropped off the food with Cora and Nathaniel and made her leave.
“Wait!” Nathaniel called after her.
She returned, frowning in confusion.
“Can you deliver another message?”
Alice didn’t have to think about it. “No.”
“Alice!” Cora looked shocked, and Alice felt her face heat up.
“The last one was about me, I’m hardly going to repeat that mistake again.”
Nathaniel chuckled. “I see why he started calling you a doe.”
The sudden change of topic disconcerted Alice. “What? He does not.”
He narrowed his eyes and smiled as if she had played into his hands. Suddenly, Alice realized he never said whom he was referring to. “Oh yes. You act all gentle, but then you’ve got a dangerous set of hooves.”
At her confusion, he kicked the bars lightly, and Cora laughed. “Oh my word, it’s true.”
Thoroughly embarrassed, Alice folded her arms and looked away. “I do not kick, and I resent the implication.”
“That’s right, you play dead, like a possum.”
Alice did not dignify that with a response. She had no idea what a ‘possum’ was, but it did not sound nice.
Apparently Cora didn’t know either, because she let it pass, and addressed Alice with affection. “My dear, you can lash out at times.” To Nathaniel she added: “Do I get a name then?”
He grinned affectionately. “You’re a catamount, through and through.”
Alice felt her lips quirk despite herself. Her sister was certainly ferocious enough to live up to the name, and she treated Alice like her cub. Were mountain lions territorial?
Cora laughed delightedly, then gasped. “You know, I saw one along the George Road. Just before the attack.”
“As I said, then.” Nathaniel reached through the bars to cup her cheek, and Alice took the opportunity to sidle away.
He caught the movement. “Alice. Please. I have no other choice here.”
Nathaniel indicated the cell around him, and she felt her heart twist. With a groan, she acquiesced. “All right, what’s the message?”
“It’s for Uncas. Say: keholàk.”
“Does it really have to be a secret?”
“Oh, I’d hardly call it a secret.”
“But it’s in Mohican!”
He laughed. “No, that’s Delaware.”
She sighed, not understanding the joke. Perhaps Uncas would tell her.
Alice left to go find Uncas and Chingachgook. After she scoured the parade ground a couple times with no luck, she finally decided to approach a Mohawk she’d seen with them earlier.
She reminded herself that there was no need for embarrassment. She was simply trying to deliver a message, and make sure the two were fed. But it was difficult for her to strike up conversation with a stranger, especially when they hadn’t been introduced.
“Pardon me, sir. Have you seen the Mohicans?”
The Indian nodded toward the barracks.
“I see.” She tried to tamp down on her disappointment that he had gone to bed without waiting to see her. Perhaps it was deliberate. Did he believe they should see nothing at all of each other from now on? She hesitated, but supposed if Nathaniel said the message wasn’t a secret, that it wouldn’t matter. “Do you mind giving Uncas a message?”
He grunted, and she took that for an affirmation.
“Tell him: keholàk.”
He let out a chuff of laughter and walked away.
Alice stood confused for a moment, hoping they had understood each other, then wandered off. Her mind drifted back to the story she had learned this night until she found herself back at the infirmary. She entered the L-shaped store room as she had many times before, and crawled onto the row of crates in the corner, hidden from view of the door.
After a minute or so, it opened. Alice got to her feet with reluctance as Mr. Phelps appeared, making his way to extinguish the candle burning on the wall. He caught sight of her first.
“Beg your pardon, Alice. About to call it a night. Nearly locked you in!” He chuckled despite the dark circles under his eyes.
Alice responded with what she thought was a smile, but Mr. Phelps frowned disconcertedly.
“I’ll just... leave you to it. Lock up when you’re done, then.” He handed her the key to the door’s lock and made himself scarce.
Alice examined the key before pocketing it and returning to her spot in the corner, arms wrapped around her knees. It was an odd place to find refuge, she supposed, but the herbaceous, medicinal smell reminded her of being a child again—back before she knew the horrors of the world.
Uncas rolled over as someone collapsed onto the cot beside him. Though he was exhausted and looked forward to the night being over, it was difficult to rest as men came filtering in and out of the barracks. That, and his mind kept going over the failures of the last 36 hours. The best he could do was not think of how much worse it would get tomorrow night.
“Yellow-hair was looking for you.”
At the sound of quietly spoken Delaware, Uncas’s eyes flew open, and he turned towards Sharitarish. The Mohawk already had his eyes closed against the candlelight.
After a moment of silence, Uncas realized he wasn’t going to make this easy. “She say why?”
Sharitarish smiled. “Had a message for you.”
Uncas willed himself to be patient. “And?”
“Better you hear it from her.”
Uncas hesitated, bone-tired and knowing his next action would be noted by both Sharitarish and his father. But he got to his feet anyway, taking his knife and tomahawk with him.
As he left the barracks, Chingachgook spoke resignedly.
“Be more careful than your brother.”
He wanted to explain to his father that there wasn’t anything to worry about, but realized sneaking off to visit a Colonel’s daughter was never going to be an entirely innocent thing. “Always, father.”
Uncas looked towards Munro’s quarters first. Seeing the firelight flicker through the windows, he knew no one slept inside yet. So where in this fort would a doe run off to?
When he determined he was not being watched, Uncas slipped into the infirmary’s store room. At first glance, it appeared empty. He rounded the corner to find Alice curled up against the wall, sitting on a row of crates.
She hadn’t registered his presence. Instead, her eyes stared vacantly at his moccasins, her mind having retreated in on itself.
Nothing worried him more than that look.
He knelt before her, peering into her face. Alice blinked, a flicker of confusion at finding him here. Wordlessly, he placed his tomahawk on the ground, got to his feet, and sat beside her. He pulled her close and encircled his arms around her, drawing her to his chest as she wrapped her arms around his waist.
“Làpi pal, Nushètu.” You must come back, Doe.
Uncas wondered what Alice’s world was like before she came here. Reading books, embroidering beautiful things. It held peace and calm—not this constant fear, like a deer that had been run to ground, only to begin the chase over and over again. A creature of the forest could not live that way indefinitely. How would it change Alice Munro?
He listened as her breathing became deeper, felt her body loosen. She was present.
He murmured against her hair. “Tell me?”
Silence. Then, a whisper.
“I know why Magua wants to kill us.” As her breathing hitched, she haltingly told him the story she had pieced together from Ongewesgone, Lt. Ashton, and her father. “Do you think... if the fort falls. All of us in it. My family, the regiment, Ashton, the Mohawks. Everyone who participated, gone. Would that be justice?”
“No. Never.” The denial felt inadequate. He wished he could express in words how terrible all of this was. How she ought to have more than the comfort of a man who could never give her the life she deserved, let alone be seen with.
“But maybe, it could all stop. If the French took the fort, and the Hurons went home. Other Indians, too. Maybe it would stop with us.”
“Won’t end. The war’s bigger than any of us, Nushètu. That’s why we’re leaving.” There was nothing but death here, and nothing she could do.
Uncas knew the feeling. Like the men of his tribe, he held on to the fear, the anger, all the grief that would be thrown at him—took it, and channeled it into purpose. Action. It was nearly impossible to find an honorable purpose in this war. The best he could do was protect those he cared for.
Yet he couldn’t hold this fort up on his own, couldn’t get Alice out of here, couldn’t do anything for Nathaniel but wait. What hope was there? The Camerons, his tribe, his mother—all good things fled this world too soon.
His arms tightened around Alice.
When she moved away and unfurled her limbs, he felt one more pang of loss. But she simply wrapped her arms around his shoulders, and pulled him closer to her. He released a breath as he buried his face against her shoulder, only realizing then how much he needed this. Needed her.
“Does Nushètu mean doe?”
He nodded against her shoulder.
“I like it.”
The whispered confession made him smile. The next one made him still.
“Keholàk.” You are the one that I love.
Uncas was instantly brought back to the time his brother teased him about finding a Delaware-speaking woman. ‘She will say ‘You are the one.’ Bear him many children.’ He pulled back far enough to look up into Alice’s startled eyes.
“Did I just say something obscene?”
She clearly had no idea, and Uncas wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disappointed. He smiled, shook his head, and leaned into her once more.
“No. Very nice.” But he was absolutely going to kill Nathaniel.
Together, they drifted off into sleep.
- “Nits will be lice” and variants thereof was a saying used to justify the killing of children throughout history, nits meaning the eggs of headlice.
- The expedition here is mostly based off of the Kittanning Expedition, which was a raid/massacre conducted on a Lenape village in 1756. Lt. Ashton is partially based off of it’s leader, Lt. Col. John Armstrong, whose brother was killed during the attack on Ft. Granville in which the Lenape gained their prisoners.
Inspiration: TALK ME DOWN by Troye Sivan
Chapter 8: Preparation
The fort gets ready for the final bombardment.
TW: Child death, assisted suicide.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Alice woke to find herself leaning against a wall. The candle in the room had burned itself out, and a scant amount of daylight filtered in from the cracks between the boards on the wall. She began to straighten, her progress halted by a weight on her legs.
With wide eyes, she realized that Uncas’s head rested in her lap, one arm draped over her knees. Her feet had fallen to the ground sometime in the night, causing her skirts to hitch up and expose her calf. Now the bangles around Uncas’s wrist gleamed mere inches from her stocking.
Alice was further alarmed to realize her hand was buried in his hair, resting against his shoulder. She did not dare to move. But after a moment of concentration, his even breathing indicated he was still sleeping.
She untangled her hand from Uncas’s hair slowly, carefully, trying not to wake him as she contemplated her predicament. Undoubtedly he would be embarrassed to find himself in such a position; it made her want to bolt before that could happen. Yet, the intimacy gave her a small thrill.
She supposed she could afford to wait a moment longer.
Alice studied him as she had allowed herself only once before, at the burial ground. This time he lay on his side, his profile showcasing a strong jaw and prominent cheekbone, an earring glinting up at her and black hair splayed across her skirt.
Hesitantly, she reached out to trace the red, white, and black beads that hung from the braid he wore along the back of his hair, until she reached the red feather on the end. She turned her attention to the braid itself, tied once at the top with a thin cord of leather that was braided through to be secured again at the bottom. It was beginning to fall out, and would need to be redone.
She wondered that in all the tales she had heard of the Americas, none told how alluring red men could be. Perhaps Englishmen knew that if their women learned the truth, the marriage market would dwindle, and there would be a great many more Indians to deal with.
Alice smiled to herself and decided she quite preferred the Mohican’s hairstyle over the stylized periwigs men wore back home. She ran her fingers over his hair with renewed appreciation. As she smoothed away some flyaway strands, Mr. Phelps’s voice drifted in from beyond the store room door.
She snatched her hand back and shifted out from under Uncas, ignoring his groan of protest as she skirted around his tomahawk to reach the door. After wrenching it open, she stepped out to be immediately greeted by a disheveled Mr. Phelps, who stopped back in surprise.
“Alice, good gracious.” He appeared perplexed, no doubt by the knowledge she had chosen to remain in the storeroom all day rather than return to her father’s quarters. What time was it, anyway?
“Can I get you anything, Mr. Phelps?” she asked breathlessly, stationing herself between him and the door.
“Laudanum.” He glanced out back to where the smallpox victims lay. He must be up to give them their next dose, so it had to be around noon.
She nodded, heart pounding as she quietly returned to the store room. Though Uncas now stood, she avoided looking at him and reached for the small crate that held the vials of laudanum. Discovering it was empty, she placed it aside and hesitated at the next one, which was sealed.
Uncas stepped forward and, like the marvel he was, made quick work of prying off the lid with the blade of his tomahawk. She forgot her embarrassment for the moment and beamed up at him, then blushed as he smiled back.
She quickly snatched a vial and ran back out the door to deliver it to Mr. Phelps.
“Thank you, Alice. Now go on and get some proper sleep.”
As he disappeared behind the infirmary, Alice looked around before opening the store room door once more.
Uncas leaned against the wall. What was he waiting for? At her impatient beckon, he walked out and glanced around to confirm no one was watching. She felt a twinge of indignation at not being trusted, and opened her mouth to say so when he bent down and murmured in her ear.
“Find you later.”
She shivered as he brushed by her and stared at his retreating back, wondering if she was misconstruing his intentions. They had fallen asleep in each others’ arms, for goodness’ sake, but he hadn’t kissed her or taken back his rejection from the other night.
As Alice stood there, she recalled the key to the store room was still in her pocket. She locked up, returned the key to Mr. Phelps, and made her way to bed.
Alice woke again when it was still light out and stretched to loosen a knot in her back. She groaned and tried to find a comfortable position around the lump in the mattress.
Cora smirked. “Why do you think I slept on this side? You should have come to bed sooner.” She yawned into her pillow and pulled herself upright, blinking blearily. “Where were you?”
“Oh. I fell asleep in the infirmary’s store room.” Best not to say she wasn’t alone.
Cora chuckled as she climbed out of the bed. “On a crate? Can’t have been any better.”
Alice smiled but said nothing. Sleeping sitting up hadn’t been ideal, but waking to find a gorgeous man in one’s lap, she found, was more than tolerable. Her heart began to pound faster at the thought until she observed her sister peering out the window.
“No reinforcements.” It wasn’t a question; Alice had given up on the idea.
Cora shook her head, continuing to watch the activity outside. Alice was tempted to remain in bed until she thought of what Uncas had told her. With a start, she threw off the blanket and made herself ready. She could not wait for him to find her.
Papa joined them presently, and Cora attempted to leave out the other door without speaking to him. “Cora, wait.” To both of them, he continued: “Listen to me—this is important.”
She folded her arms and obeyed with determined austerity as he gave them an indication of what to expect from the imminent bombardment.
“Tonight will be the worst of it, but we’ll make it through. You’ll be about as safe as you can be in here. Once the alarm goes out, you keep your heads down, and you stay put. You understand, girls?”
He looked at them both in turn until he received their affirmations.
“Good. We’ll hold out until morning. When Webb arrives tomorrow, we’ll be saved.”
Cora watched her father bleakly. “If he were coming he’d be here by now.”
As he frowned, Alice joined in. “What if he doesn’t, Papa?”
He seemed reluctant to consider the possibility, yet wanted to reassure them. “If they don’t, and the French manage to overrun us, you’ll be fine, girls. Montcalm is a soldier and a gentleman. On his honor, you’ll be kept safe.”
“As an officer I’ll be treated with dignity. If I were to be taken, they’d either ransom me or trade for French prisoners. You do not have to worry.”
“But... the rest of the men here?”
“Locked up for the war.”
Cora looked away, despondent.
“I’m off to oversee preparations.” He embraced them both in turn. “Remember: no candles, no lanterns, no fires of any kind.” He made for the door and called out over his shoulder. “And stay far from the windows.”
After he left, Alice studied her sister. “Cora?”
“No one is coming. Nathaniel said if that were the case, the fort would fall to the French.”
She grasped for a comforting thought. “Wouldn’t it be better for him to be imprisoned rather than executed?”
“On a prison ship? Horrible places. It may as well be a death sentence.”
Alice thought of Uncas, and felt her stomach lurch.
Cora took a deep breath. “Right. Help me carry food?”
“To Nathaniel?” Alice hesitated.
For once, Cora seemed to understand. “Oh, don’t you mind him, Alice.”
“Every time I talk to him I end up being terribly embarrassed.” Her mortification grew as she recalled the way her message had gone over last night. “I don’t even know what I told Uncas.”
“It was just some joke between them, something about women who speak Delaware. I didn’t understand it, really. He seems to think—oh, never mind what he thinks. It’s all nonsense and I told him so.”
Alice groaned, afraid Nathaniel knew exactly how she felt about Uncas. Who else did? She thought of the Indian she had conveyed the message to last night and shrank in on herself. Perhaps Chingachgook knew too. The man had a good heart, she was sure, yet she was still frightfully intimidated by him. What would he think?
Soon they stopped by the kitchen to find it bustling with activity. Gruel was being churned out by the vat for the enlisted men—something about them no longer having fires to cook their own. A fresh batch of hand pies were waiting to be fired in the oven. Alice turned to Cora.
“I’ll wait; you go on ahead.”
Cora departed happily, eager to spend as much time as she could with Nathaniel. Once she was gone, Alice addressed the cook.
“I have a rather unconventional request.”
Alice braced herself as she carried the basket of pies into the stockade. As Cora and Nathaniel spoke seriously about the bombardment, she held out hope that she would get off easy this day.
As Nathaniel spotted her with a sly smile, she realized it was not to be.
“You tell Uncas?”
“No.” She held her chin high, hoping to convey she was beyond such trivialities.
He threw his head back in laughter. “You did! I can’t believe it, why would you fall for that again?”
Despite herself, Alice flushed angrily and stayed silent.
“What did his face look like?”
“Has no one ever told you the story of the shepherd boy and the wolf?”
“No. Am I the wolf?”
Alice willed herself to be patient. “You’re the boy.”
“Did this boy have charm and good looks?”
“Stop harassing my sister, Nathaniel Poe, or you can eat your pie off the floor!”
Alice beamed at Cora, who nevertheless handed him the pie that sat on top of the basket before taking one herself. Her duty completed, Alice made her leave, but paused at the stockade door long enough to hear Nathaniel’s revolted groan.
“What is this?”
Cora swallowed a bite of hers. “Meat pie, of course.”
Alice called out. “His is a gruel pie, actually.”
She cackled and ran out the door before Cora could give chase.
Uncas emerged from the barracks to observe the fort in a state of preparation. The shingles were being removed from the roofs of the buildings, and soldiers hauled firewood out to be dumped in the lake. All was being done to avoid fires breaking out during the bombardment.
He supposed it was worth the effort, but would matter little in the long run, given that the fort itself was constructed entirely of wood. The moment the French had advanced down the Horican dragging its artillery along, it had never stood a chance.
Without fires to gather around, people formed loose groups, milling about until nightfall would descend and force them back indoors.
Uncas tracked down Sharitarish.
“Listen, you familiar with a Huron named Magua?”
Sharitarish nodded. “Le Renard Subtil. Enemy to the Mohawks now.”
“He’s the Sly Fox?” Uncas had heard the name before: a war chief who was known for his clever stratagems. Uncas glowered at the knowledge that this was no ordinary Huron, and one who had the audacity to borrow his own namesake. “A disgrace to the name.”
Sharitarish grunted in agreement, then slowly grinned at something over Uncas’s shoulder. He turned to find Alice approaching with a basket, smiling to herself as she wove her way through the crowd. Despite the danger he knew awaited them that night, his heart lifted to see her this way.
Her smile faltered as she glanced up and spotted Sharitarish. Turning bright red, she hastily handed Uncas a meat pie before running off, ostensibly to find Chingachgook.
Uncas turned a glare onto his friend, who shrugged and spoke in Delaware.
“Not my fault she’s skittish. Surprising, given her declaration.”
“Nathaniel’s doing; she doesn’t know what it means.”
“Didn’t stop you from spending half the day together.”
It was a nonchalant observation, but now Uncas felt his own face heat up. He’d hoped his lengthy disappearance would go unnoticed, and when there had been no reaction from the prone Mohawk as he crept back into the barracks, thought he might get away with it. And if Sharitarish had noticed, surely his father had too. Nothing got past Chingachgook.
“White women. I’ll admit to some curiosity. Might see for myself what all the fuss is about.”
Uncas was about to reply with a barbed remark, when he realized Sharitarish may be genuinely pondering the notion. Following his line of sight, he recognized a laundress who had been giggling as he dropped his shirt off the night before.
Sharitarish smiled with easy confidence. “She’s been eyeing me all evening.”
Uncas laughed incredulously. “Aren’t all of the women here married to soldiers?”
“There’s camp followers, and plenty of widows.” The reply was disturbingly cheerful.
“Show her the scalps you collected, it might impress her.”
Sharitarish appeared to consider the idea, but dismissed it. “Won’t work for a Yengeese woman.”
Uncas studied his friend, realizing he may be serious. He decided to indulge him. “If you want a reason to talk to her, you can collect my shirt from the laundry.”
In truth, he would be grateful not to have to go back in there and face a room full of speculative stares. Perhaps he was being overly cautious, but he sensed the whispers amongst those in the laundry connected him with Alice, and did not want to dredge them up again.
Sharitarish grunted, and Uncas supposed that was the end of it.
After an hour or two of waiting to catch Alice in private, Uncas grew impatient and decided to take matters into his own hands. He went to the infirmary and approached her directly.
Although she brightened at seeing him, her eyes rounded with trepidation as he came closer. She glanced over him and asked, a little breathlessly: “Everything all right?”
“Just need a fresh bandage.”
“Is it bad?”
Uncas shrugged and made his way to an empty table. “It’s fine; thought you should make sure.”
“Why not Cora?”
He lifted himself up and gave her a pointed look.
“Oh.” She blushed and ducked her head as she retrieved supplies.
“You ran off earlier.” He accused her with a smile.
“Your friend was there. And....” She trailed off uncomfortably, unable to express her concerns.
“Sharitarish? He’s all right.”
She nodded. “Sorry.”
“That’s all right. I’m a hunter, I enjoy the chase.”
She fumbled with a bandage as she fought a smile. Enjoying himself, Uncas pressed further.
“I could take my shirt off, if it makes this easier.”
She dropped her hands, laughing despite herself. “Stop that!”
“Stop what?” he asked, feigning innocence.
“Talking! I can’t think!”
He studied her in silence, and hoped she was disappointed that he complied. She glanced up into his face, then let out an exasperated breath and kept her voice low. “And don’t look at me like that!”
“It’s like you’re thinking of something... indecent.”
She stopped moving and lowered her voice to a whisper. “Like wh—no! Uncas, we’re in public!”
He replied just as quietly. “Then get yourself out of here.”
She took a deep breath and lifted the bandage around his waist in order to cut it away.
“Very well. But I’m going to get back at you for this.”
He took her sudden austerity as a challenge. “Can’t wait to see how.”
She burst out into a giggle and snatched the blade from his skin. “Don’t make me laugh while I’m holding a knife!”
He smiled as she made her second attempt. He watched her face as this time she moved slowly, deliberately sliding her soft fingers over his skin before lifting the bandage to carefully cut it away. Perhaps she was also standing closer than necessary, but he held no complaints.
“I’ll take a look at that.”
He kept his face determinedly neutral at Cora’s sudden appearance. Alice backed away, pleasure melting away into concern as her sister studied his wound.
At her declaration, Alice relaxed and moved in to administer a new bandage.
“I’ve got it, thank you, Alice.”
Alice had no choice but to watch as she took over. Over Cora’s shoulder, she met his exasperated gaze and stifled another giggle. Without looking up, Cora addressed her sister.
“I believe they need more blankets out back, if you don’t mind.”
Alice hesitated before complying. After she left, Cora spent a long moment scrutinizing him. He held her gaze, knowing he was being sized up.
“So, Uncas. I’ll get to the point. My sister is young. She does not know the ways of men, nor the divisions between our worlds. I expect you to mind that. Am I understood?”
He nodded. While her words were certainly no encouragement, he still took it as a positive sign that Cora wasn’t threatening him outright.
Apparently satisfied, Cora made quick work of tying off the new dressing as Uncas looked around for Alice. She walked through the infirmary, ignoring the officer trailing after her. Ashton.
He kept his eyes on them as she turned around.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake.”
She made for them in an instant, Uncas following.
Alice stepped outside the surgery and gathered up a stack of blankets.
She did not need to turn to see who it was. “Lieutenant.”
“I must convey my sincerest apologies for my behavior last night. It was utterly inexcusable.”
She glanced up at him in surprise, wondering what brought about this sudden change in attitude. Was he simply sober now, or was it another manipulation? Perhaps both. She nodded stiffly and moved past him, hoping he would leave it at that.
“I say, they do have you running about. You should be entertaining the officers, not performing tasks like a common maid.”
“We are under siege, as I’m sure you’re well aware.”
He chuckled. “I hear you. All hands on deck, as it were. Bit of a lull for the infantry, however.”
She eyed him warily, waiting for him to either leave or get to the point.
“Say, since you’re running errands anyway, why don’t you nip on back to the store room and fetch me another bottle of kill-devil?”
Ah, there it was. “Certainly not.”
“Come now, surely we can be friends. After all,”—at this he lowered his voice—“I haven’t said a word to your father regarding your role in letting his men desert.”
“You must not value your commission if you believe you can threaten me, Lieutenant.” With that, she marched through the infirmary and out back to where the pox victims lay.
“Nothing so vulgar, Miss Munro.” His bored drawl was belied by his trailing after her. “Simply a congenial arrangement. But if you’d rather—good God.” He realized where he was and lingered by the infirmary, reflexively covering his mouth and nose with his hand to ward off illness that may spread through smell.
A rasping sound distracted Alice. The mother and daughter pair had managed to hang on this long, but both looked precariously close to death’s door. The little girl’s harsh, irregular breaths indicated this was finally imminent. Alice’s initial reaction was concern, until she checked herself. At this point, a swift death would be a welcome one, especially before the bombardment.
To Lt. Ashton, Alice spoke quietly. “You may do as you see fit. Good night.” Perhaps it was reckless of her, but part of her wanted him to bring his accusation to her father, just so she could expose him further for his unscrupulous behavior.
To her relief, he left promptly, though it was likely due to his fear of catching the pox. Cora appeared then, with Uncas behind her. Alice smiled softly at the sight of them, her gratitude tempered by the solemn nature of their surroundings.
“I had half a mind to give that man a thrashing, but then you had to go and send him running off with his tail between his legs.” Cora attempted to maintain her anger, but it warred with concern. “Was he making an advance on you?”
Alice shook her head, stepping closer to them so as not to disturb those who were resting. “He’s got a penchant for drinking and thought he could extort me for rum.”
Cora glowered. “He must still be in his altitudes if he thinks he can threaten one of us.”
As she spoke to her sister, Alice looked over her shoulder at Uncas, who stood silently and equally unhappy. “I’ve informed Papa of his drinking.”
Uncas nodded in agreement, and Alice craned her neck to survey those who rested on the ground.
“I think I’ll be busy back here for a while.”
“Quite all right, dear.” Cora eyed the mother and daughter with understanding. It would be good to have someone sit with them, and they both knew Cora was of more use in the surgery.
Uncas appeared uneasy, apparently concerned for Alice’s health. She smiled, touched, as Cora answered for her.
“We’ve both been inoculated.”
“I’ll be all right.” She hoped he could see the regret in her eyes that she could not take the time to escape after all.
He hesitated, but nodded before leaving. Cora lingered.
“Alice... I’m sorry if I’ve been neglecting you. The men here...”
Alice shook her head vehemently, hoping to dissuade her from broaching the topic of Uncas.
“Not at all.”
After all, it was Cora the soldiers generally made bawdy passes at, not her. Possibly because Alice often looked sick around so many injuries; she certainly felt it. Resigned, she settled herself down to watch over the ailing patients.
“I’ll send over Mr. Phelps.”
Cora disappeared as Alice prepared herself for a long night.
As Uncas passed the time spectating on a high stakes game of dice, he caught the green shirt tossed to him. Sharitarish was grinning again, and began speaking once more in Delaware.
“She asked if she could wash something for me.”
Uncas laughed. “Of course she did; that’s her work.”
“No—you should have seen the way she looked at me.”
He raised his eyebrows significantly. Uncas glanced at his friend’s bare chest, and up again, baffled.
Sharitarish slumped his shoulders slightly, disappointed that he had to explain it outright. “She meant my breechcloth.” He mistook Uncas’s silence for incomprehension. “She wants me to take it off.”
Uncas knew there was no way he was serious. Yet... “Friend. Please tell me you did not ask the laundress to wash your breechcloth.”
“Of course not, there were others around. The challenge is not in getting with a white woman—that’s as good as done. It’s in getting away with it. Also,”—he lowered his voice—“her name is Abigail.”
He grinned as Uncas stared at him.
“You’re going to get us both flogged, at best.”
“Don’t worry, I have caution. More than you and Nathaniel. And now that the skirmishing is over, I need something to do.”
Uncas sighed resignedly, and wondered if this was how his father felt.
As the night advanced, Uncas discovered a benefit to not having fires around; he was able to sneak over to Nathaniel’s cell window undetected.
Nathaniel grinned up at him.
“Come to enjoy the view?”
Uncas glanced around. “Of the fort?”
“Word is there’s to be a big ol’ fireworks display.”
Uncas sat against the wall of the stockade and pulled out a small bottle of applejack. He took a mouthful and handed it to Nathaniel through the bars.
“Where’d you get this?”
“Traded Killdeer for it.”
Nathaniel’s words of protest were drowned out by the bottle.
“Figured you didn’t need it anymore.” Uncas smiled to see his brother vexed, although not fooled.
“You give up Killdeer, you do it long after I’m dead and gone, you hear? And for more than a pittance.”
Uncas grunted in acquiescence and they continued to pass the applejack back and forth.
“Won it. Dice. Not much else to do.”
“Don’t I know it.” Suddenly, Nathaniel turned alarmingly serious. “Listen... if I’m strung up.”
Uncas shifted uncomfortably. “No, brother—“
“Throw my body in the river, for all I care. Don’t make a fuss.”
Uncas frowned at him, disgusted at the idea of his brother’s corpse rotting in the water. “You do not wish to be buried?”
He shrugged ambivalently. “My spirit won’t be there. And I’ll have no kin looking for my bones, once you head west.”
Uncas grunted in acknowledgment. “If we can’t find a suitable burial site, you may be cremated. No rivers.”
“That’ll do.” He eyed Uncas. “One other thing?”
“You and your Doe have to to name your first born after me.”
“What, no plans to elope? After I gave her a line like that? Well, you can’t say I didn’t try.”
“Wish you didn’t. She also told Sharitarish.”
Nathaniel groaned. “I told her to tell you!”
“Turns out, he has his own mission.” He told his brother what the Mohawk planned with the laundress.
Nathaniel warred between anger and amusement. “He’s going to get you both flogged.”
“I’m aware.” Uncas gave his brother a level, accusatory stare.
“All right, I’m sorry. Now, before you get any ideas, she already had her revenge.”
“My pie held a William Henry welcome.”
Uncas took a moment to piece together the implication before laughing quietly. “You eat it?”
“Down to the last bite.”
They passed the bottle back and forth for a time, talking about everything and nothing. Eventually Uncas told him about Magua’s identity.
“I had the Sly Fox in my sight! A second more...” Nathaniel gripped the bars in frustration, as if enough force would tear the iron free.
“When the fort falls, he will not be far from his quarry.”
Nathaniel released the bars to pace in his cell. “Munro will surrender. With his daughters here, he has to—I don’t care what he says now. And as long as the girls stay with the officers, they’ll be the best protected of anyone here. Even the French would make sure of it.”
Uncas nodded, comforted in the fact that although he’d be powerless to watch over the Munro girls, he could count on their safety being paramount to the others. To his right, he saw Cora approaching the stockade entrance.
He left Nathaniel with the rest of the bottle and looked around. The parade ground was clearing out of all but the essential defenders of the fort. Soon the alarm would be sounded, and the final stages of the siege would commence. Finding Alice now became a matter of urgency.
True to Cora’s word, Mr. Phelps arrived shortly to check on the ailing pair. A glance at Alice and a curt nod told her all that she needed to know.
“What are their names?”
“Clarity and Martha Rouse. Sgt. Rouse passed from the pox ten days hence.”
During what seemed an eternity of listening to the girl’s rasping breaths, Alice wished she had something useful to do. She wanted to make Martha more comfortable, but was afraid that by touching her she might irritate the sores that covered her body. She was also afraid to disturb her mother, who despite having her eyes closed, seemed aware of what was happening.
What did one do when a child was dying? She was incapable of providing a comforting sermon. She frowned, thinking of Nurse and the stories she would tell of the Otherworld. This girl was not Scottish; such tales would mean nothing to her.
Yet she occasionally spoke over the girl’s death rattle, feeling it her duty to give her snippets of parting advise, however inadequate. She reminded her that her father awaited her, that her mother was close behind, and they would be together. To not to be afraid if she saw a washerwoman at the ford beyond the veil, for that may be her own mother, and she was a kind soul.
She waited as the breaths became more and more interspersed, until finally she thought she might not have heard one in some minutes. She quietly got to her feet and tracked down Mr. Phelps, who returned to confirm the death.
Alice waited for the grief to hit her, yet curiously, only felt a weight lifted from her shoulders. It was over.
Clarity opened her eyes at last, just enough to look up at Mr. Phelps, who had pulled out a vial of laudanum.
“Why don’t you go on, Alice. I’ll take over.”
Alice stood rooted to the spot, sensing there was more at play here.
Mr. Phelps frowned at her, but she nodded at the vial in understanding.
“I must stay. Please.”
Alice watched in silence as Mr. Phelps dispensed the lethal dose of laudanum, in a final act that must have been agreed between them days prior. She stared into he eyes of a woman who had lost her husband and daughter, and as they closed for the last time, wondered what it was like to have lost one thing more: the fear of death.
It was unimaginable, beyond her grasp. Yet, when faced with the end, wouldn’t it be just the thing to embrace it? Warring sensations of terror and awe crept over her until at last, Mr. Phelps declared that Clarity, too, was passed.
Finally, terror won out. Alice left immediately after a prayer was spoken over the bodies—she had to get away, to wash the death from her skin. She might not contract the pox, yet she felt as though some cold phantom had brushed its fingers against her cheek and beckoned her forth.
Cora caught up with her—said something about going to Nathaniel, and if Alice would be all right. Alice supposed she responded with an assurance of her well-being. She then hurried off to the laundry, where she scrubbed every inch of her exposed skin raw. She knew if she had the second sight, a bean-nighe would be standing beside her, washing the blood-stained clothes of the Rouses, or perhaps her own.
She nearly jumped when Mrs. McCann ushered her out with an “off with ye” and “almost time”. She found herself back on the darkened parade ground to be met with a sense of wrongness. Emptiness. Most of the people were gone. Only soldiers continued to stand in the corners or shout from the ramparts—she may have just heard her father among them.
Of course. They had, all of them, run out of time.
Uncas finally caught a glimpse of golden hair emerging from the laundry. He walked across her path to the shadow of a barracks and spent an agonizing moment wondering if Alice would follow him as he intended. She then rounded the corner of the building, hesitating.
A glance at her face confirmed her distress. So, she had just seen death once more. He wasted no time in grabbing her hands and tugging her close. As she melted against him, he sighed and pressed his lips to her hair. After a moment he pulled back to look down at her, face inches from hers.
“Listen. Your father could surrender tomorrow. Might not see each other again.”
Perhaps he shouldn’t have started with that. Her eyes widened, and she gripped the front of his shirt with white knuckles, anchoring him close.
“It’s all right. We’ll be all right. Just not together. Now, listen. Stay with the officers and the Français will respect you.”
“I know that. But what about you?”
“You’re worried about me?” He smiled gently, touched.
“If you’re not killed, you’ll be taken. Imprisoned. Uncas...”
“No. If it comes to that, we’ll free Nathaniel, escape into the forest.” She searched his eyes, unconvinced. He drew himself up. “Mohicans do not yield. Not when there is another choice.”
The alarm was then sounded, drumming and shouts rising to bring sudden urgency.
He ran his hand over her hair. “You know what to do?”
She stared, not responding for a moment until she seemed to recall his words. “I’ll be with Cora.”
“Then be safe. Go.”
He nodded towards her father’s quarters, but she continued to clutch his shirt, her breaths becoming labored. “I’m so frightened.”
He kissed her cheek but then pried her fingers away, hating himself for doing so.
“Have to. Please. Go, now.”
He walked her forward a couple steps and gave her a gentle push. With a frustrated groan, she ran off. This time, Uncas waited until he saw the door shut firmly behind her before returning to his barracks.
The real Col. Munro did order the flammable roof tiles and stocks of firewood to be dumped into the lake to avoid further damage from fires breaking out during the bombardment. The wooden fort was not built to withstand a siege but I suppose every little bit helped.
In the book, Magua & the Mohicans know each other at least by reputation, but don’t appear to in the movie. So I decided on a bit of both.
The bean-nighe or washerwoman is the Scottish version of the banshee, who wash the clothes of those soon to die. They are the spirits of women who died at childbirth (like Alice’s mother), and are tied into that fate for as long as their natural lives would have been.
Inspiration: If I’m Being Honest by dodie
Chapter 9: Bombardment
The final shelling commences.
8 August (early morning)
Alice arrived in her quarters to find it empty. Confusion gave way to panic as she ran to the window, searching for a sign of her sister. Should she go out and find her?
No, Cora could take care of herself. She would only get cross with Alice for running about, and she was probably with Nathaniel anyway. Nathaniel—of course! How could she be so dimwitted? Cora had told her exactly where she would be, and Alice had been too frightened to listen. Whatever she said in return, it had only been so she could end the conversation and flee.
There was no time to take it back, to tell Cora that she was too much a coward to spend the night alone despite her relative safety. As an eerie hush fell over the fort, Alice forced herself back to the bed, wrenched her boots off and tossed them aside before crawling atop the linens. She would simply have to make it through the night alone.
A Gaelic shout called out in the silence: a challenge to the French.
“Caisteal Folais 'na theine!” Castle Foulis in flames.
Alice groaned and ducked her head into her knees. The Munro’s war cry had been used for centuries, calling on the clan to muster arms when the beacon was lit above the seat of their power. Eleven years ago, Castle Foulis had been sacked by Jacobites, and the slogan had taken on new meaning.
Perhaps it served to stoke the battle rage of the Highlanders (with many a Munro among them), but to Alice, it was merely a harbinger of their defeat.
She thought of Duncan. If he were off duty, he’d be in another room with the officers. Should she go crawling to him like a child who had a bad dream? Never. At least... not in front of the others. She was a Munro, after all.
Alice closed her eyes, wondering how she could feel sorry for herself, when she was the most privileged person in the entire fort. Others were braving the shelling out in the open, or else packed in the lower levels of the barracks—like those immigrants who had spent the Atlantic voyage on the deck beneath hers. The sickness, the wailing—too many people to breathe.
Breathe, she reminded herself as the first bomb shook the fort. It was a privilege to be alone.
At the door to his barracks, Uncas paused with dawning realization. He hadn’t seen Cora leave the stockade. If she was spending the night with Nathaniel, then who was with Alice?
Sensing the first mortar just before it hit, he braced himself against the door. Though he felt the earth tremble beneath him, there was no shrapnel or flare from an explosion. It had hit low on the outer wall, then. The next rounds would be coming in seconds, and with better aim.
He looked towards the stockade, then Munro’s darkened quarters. No guards were stationed outside for the bombardment; he could walk right up if he timed it right. Yet at that very moment, his father was expecting him by his side.
Knowing that any path he took may end in regret, Uncas simply chose the one he wanted. He ran, blending in with the people scrambling for cover. His father may not approve, but he’d understand. He forced himself to halt on the far side of the building and wait as he ducked his head.
It did not take long. The next mortar hit, the first in a cluster of three. Each exploded along the ramparts, sending bodies and shrapnel flying. Chaos erupted as men ran around the fort seeking safety, putting out fires, or replacing the fallen.
Uncas remained focused and slipped inside the room unseen. After a moment, his eyes adjusted enough to make out the huddled form on the bed in the far corner. Alice. She must not have heard him enter over all the commotion.
He stepped forward, but paused at the window. The chaos had not abated, yet already a fresh round of shelling hit. People scattered out from the middle of the parade ground. Watching close, Uncas could make out the dark round shape of an intact bomb. One soldier went straight for it, ostensibly to pull out the burning fuse.
A tug on his arm. He turned to see Alice, wide eyed in fear as the mortar exploded after all. At least she was looking at him, and not at the horror outside. He caught her reflexively, trying to make out the words between her gasping breaths.
Something about the window as she pulled at his arm again. Of course—she didn’t want him to stand here, where glass could shatter in at any moment. He allowed himself to be led back toward the stone fireplace.
They spoke at the same time.
“—with my brother. Safe.” Considering the the thick walls of the stockade and the fact it was built beneath ground level, he added: “Very safe.”
More explosions shook the floor beneath their feet. He tensed and Alice threw herself forward, clinging to him as he looked around to ascertain nothing would come crashing down on their heads. Flashes of light only revealed puffs of dust falling from the ceiling.
Satisfied, he held her close, hoping he could ease her fear over the long night ahead of them. Yet if he were honest with himself, he did not seek her out solely for her well-being. He wanted her—needed her just as much as she needed him.
Alice flinched at each hit against the walls of the fort, even muffled as they were, then sagged against him as they abated. He supported half her weight as together they stumbled over her discarded boots to the bed. Lowering her down proved difficult, the way she continued to cling to him.
“I’m staying, I’m here.”
He sat beside her with one arm around her, the action hampered by the weapons in his belt. Impatiently, he discarded both knife and tomahawk to the floor before pulling Alice to him again.
Each explosion made them tense, tremors wracking Alice’s body at the particularly close ones. She turned her face into him, pressing her cheek against his. He found himself trailing his lips along her jaw as she released a shaky sigh, until he reached her mouth.
Her lips were even softer than he remembered from he previous encounters: the night he ran his fingers over them at the burial ground, the kiss he had ended too soon. If he were being honest with himself, both actions had been somewhat drawn out to savor the sensation. This was no exception.
Uncas placed tender, patient kisses on her mouth until some of the tension left her body and her breathing became less labored. He had been a fool not to take every opportunity he could for a moment like this with her. He would make up for it tonight.
As they eased back onto the mattress together, he shifted his weight beside her so that his arm stretched across her protectively, yet still gave her space to breathe.
She closed her eyes to the blasts outside. However the sound was muffled, men were dying out there, and they both knew it. They could do nothing but try to forget. He brushed aside errant strands of golden hair from her face, his hand lingering as the noise subsided once more. She opened her eyes to meet his.
“Scared.” Her soft admission sent a pang in his chest.
“I know.” And, because they were being honest, added: “Me too.”
She shook her head. “Always scared—since ambush. Everything—only gets worse.”
“I know. But I won’t let anything happen to you.” Not you, too.
She grasped at his shirt, pulling him closer. Happy to oblige, he moved over her, his weight on his arms, keeping a careful distance between their bodies as he kissed her once more. He gently sucked on her upper lip and, sensing no resistance, introduced his tongue next. At her sharp inhale he backed off, afraid he had gone too far, only to feel her fingers slide through his hair and tighten at the back of his head, urging him to return to her.
He did so, losing some of his restraint. Her tentative acceptance gave way to ardent responses until she seemed to become accustomed to the experience, managing to match his pace.
At a particularly loud blast, her teeth clamped down on his lower lip. She gasped as he pulled back.
“I’m so sorry!”
But as he sucked on the injured lip, he shook his head, gazing down on her in amusement. She wilted in apparent relief but turned her head with an embarrassed huff.
“It’s all right.” Uncas rested his face against her hair and wrapped his arm around her waist, but made no attempts at anything further. If it had become too much, he would not pressure her.
Her breathing had calmed to only the occasional hitch, though her body still flinched at each hit against the fort.
“Don’t listen to that. Talk to me.”
She groaned, but made an attempt. “Thought I—wanted adventure but now—“
“Be over soon. Go home soon.”
She said nothing, but simply looked up at the ceiling.
He idly traced the cuff of her sleeve, wanting to draw her back to him again, yet afraid to push her too far. “Tell me about your home in England.”
She looked distant, and for a moment thought he’d lost her completely. “I live—with my cousin’s family—in London.”
He nodded, urging her to continue.
“In a new house at Portman Square, it’s—it’s near Hyde Park and....” She trailed off with a gasp that sounded like a sob, but no tears came forth. Come to think of it, he had yet to see her cry, though more than once she had good reason to.
“What was that like?”
“Fine, I suppose.”
He gave her arm a small shake—an admonition.
She cast a sidelong glance at him, and the hint of a rueful smile crossed her lips. “Well... awful, at first. Had no idea how to behave. And our accents were atrocious.”
“Scottish?” At her nod, he smiled teasingly. “Schools in Scotland not good enough for the Munros?”
She let out a startled breath of laughter. “Sent away during the rebellion. Then... Papa thought we should stay—make better connections, become more respectable. More English.”
Uncas could not fathom why a man would distance his daughters from their clan. Did he have no loyalty to his people? Even in times of war, were his daughters not future matrons of their tribe?
He had to remind himself that they did not trace their belonging the obvious way, through their mothers. Once married, the Munro girls would have new names in a new family—as he himself would marry into another tribe.
He dismissed the thought, and searched for anything that would help keep her mind from the world outside. “My father sent us to school too, after my mother died.”
She reached over to squeeze his hand in sympathy. “What kind of school?”
“Mission.” He smiled at her raised eyebrows, pleased to have surprised her. Although Chingachgook sent him and Nathaniel to a school meant to train them into missionaries, they never had intentions of assimilating. It was made clear by their father that they were only to learn reading and arithmetic—not a new religion.
“Are you a Puritan?”
He put on his best personation of his old teacher, Rev. Wheelock. “The word you’re looking for is Calvinist, miss.”
She released a breath of laughter. “Oh my, have you come to sermonize me? Convert me from my Anglican ways?”
“Anglican? Is that what you are, making offerings to river spirits?”
She made a sound akin to a squeak and ducked her head into his chest as it rumbled with quiet laughter.
“I’ve counted one cap, two gloves, and three buttons. What’s next?”
He trailed a finger down her sleeve, and she slapped it away with a smile. “You made an offering too!”
“Mmm. Never made a good Christian. My people honor more than just the Great Spirit. Didn’t know yours did too.”
“Not much anymore—only the superstitious. But once, they did.”
He nodded in understanding; a similar trend had begun here with the spread of Christianity. “Your mother teach you?”
“I never knew her. She died having me.” She looked away, as if she were to blame for the loss. “My nurse told stories about them. Just stories.”
“But not to you.”
“Not to me.” She traced her fingers over his beaded leather bracelet, suddenly melancholy, distant. “Would you think me silly if I told you I made a bargain with a river spirit once?”
“No—but sounds dangerous.”
He waited for Alice to continue, but she remained silent. Deciding she wouldn’t have brought it up if she didn’t want to talk about it, he prodded further. “What happened?”
She met his questioning gaze and glanced away again. “It’s a long story.”
He ran his hand down her hair. “I’ll listen.”
And so, through the explosions outside, she began.
Cora looked on in bored resignation as Alice sat on the floor of the nursery, playing with her poppets. At six years of age, Alice was perfectly happy to spend the day indoors, as they often did, but Cora was growing restless—and ornery.
“It fits on that one.”
The prince held a thimble in place of a glass shoe. Alice assisted him with placing it upon the “foot” of the others—or rather, at the bottom of each skirt, as the ladies had no legs.
She frowned down at the blank-faced, brown-haired poppet that once belonged to Cora. “Does not.”
Incensed, Alice responded with the most decisive rejoinder she could think of: “Does not!”
She looked down at the poppet, stumped, then held it out in Cora’s face. “Only ‘cause she cut her toes off ‘cause she’s wicked!”
Cora smirked. “Then where’s the blood?”
“There’s no blood, it’s pretend.” Alice rolled her eyes and sat up straighter, deciding she had won the argument.
“There should be. All over her clothes and the floor and—“
At Alice’s shout, they both flinched and glanced in Nurse’s direction, but the woman snored on. Cora glowered but said nothing more as Alice placed the thimble triumphantly at the foot of Rushen Coatie—the blonde poppet, of course. Her satisfaction quickly faded, and she looked up at her sister.
Her sister sighed. “What?”
“When Mama died, did they wash her clothes?”
Cora wrinkled her nose. “Why would they? Burnt ‘em, more like.”
Alice returned her attention to her poppet, but simply stared at it and sniffed.
“What’s this then?”
Alice let it out her stream of thoughts in a rush. “Nurse says that if ye don’t wash their clothes, they’re cursed tae wash the clothes of the dead. That’s how ye ken you’ll die, see ‘em wash your bloody clothes.”
“Mamas what die havin’ babes.” Her voice climbed as her throat grew tight.
“Don’t go listenin’ tae those stories. Nurse dinnae what she says.”
Alice began to cry.
“Alice? Stop that. Stop... no, I ken. They did wash her dress. A grand sack back gown, it was, fit for a princess. They wouldna destroy it. No, dinnae greet, Nurse will hear—“
“Cora!” Too late. Nurse had been roused from her bed, and was looking none too pleased for it. “What’re ye doin’ now?” She stared down at Alice, who could not stop the tears from trailing down her face, or her tremulous sobs.
But Alice could not stop if her life depended on it.
“Said hush, or I’ll make ye!”
Cora stamped her feet. “She wouldna be greetin’ if you didnae tell her those stories!”
Nurse ignored her, and reached for the vial of medicine she always kept in her pocket as she advanced on Alice. Cora shoved her, and Nurse whirled.
“For that, ye’ll be next!”
“No! I’m off, and ye cannae stop me!”
Cora bolted out the door and into the hall, screaming all the way. Furious, Nurse took off after her. Between sobs, Alice heard a scuffle and a fit of coughing before Cora was dragged back in and pushed onto her bed. She continued to fight Nurse, who sat on her legs until the medicine kicked in. It did not take long—perhaps only a few minutes before Cora was drowsy, then altogether unconscious.
Even Nurse seemed taken aback by the rapid change. She ignored Alice’s wailing and slapped Cora’s face, cursing. Soon Nurse had Cora rolled on her side, and a finger thrust down her throat.
After she was sick, Alice’s sobs slowly quieted to sniffs. Nurse did not turn to her, but ordered her to bed.
“But we’ve had no supper!”
She was too terrified of Nurse’s mood to do anything but comply.
Alice woke in the night, still in her day clothes, the room lit by nothing but the moon and stars. Nurse had moved from Cora’s side, whom Alice could see was now stirring.
Her sister did not answer. Instead, Nurse loomed over her own bed. Alice stared up at her with a whimper, fear overtaking her once more. Nurse’s hair was a wild mess, her eyes dark and heavy lidded. Alice struggled to make sense of her slurred words.
“Ye mus’ promise ta be good, Alice. Dinnae greet.”
Alice nodded and shook her head in turn. No, she would not cry. In fact, she would make no sound at all.
“Tha’s it...” Nurse patted her hand, stumbled back to her own bed, and lay down.
When Alice woke again, it was late morning. Her stomach rumbled fiercely, but she knew better than to demand anything. Instead, she climbed onto the floor and busied herself with her poppets again until the maid entered, shook Nurse’s arm, then screamed.
Cora woke, Nurse never did. The empty vial on the floor indicated that she had taken too much laudanum. In the following days, Alice would wonder why. Did she regret what she had done to Cora? Was it an accident? Or did she finally grow tired of caring for them, preferring to meet her deceased husband and child at last?
Such musings did not concern her sister, who rejoiced in their newfound ability to run wild. The maid was tasked with watching over the girls, but was too busy to make sure they were anything more than fed and in bed at a certain time. Until their father could be contacted to make a decision regarding their future, they were free.
Alice did not know what to do, alone with her confusion and grief. It would not be right to cry—no, Nurse didn’t like that. And certainly, no one else was doing so. Instead, she kept her emotions tamped down and wrapped tight in her chest before following Cora out the door and into the summer.
“Right, so the situation is this: Jacobites have taken over the bridge. England must secure it for the Crown.” Duncan, thirteen, looked from Cora to Alice, deadly serious as they stood by the river separating their estates. The small bridge in question would be hard pressed to support more than a carriage, let alone an army, but one had to pretend when playing Jacobites.
Alice scuffed her feet in boredom as she held onto her poppet with one hand, wishing they would play anything else.
Cora nodded. “Do I get tae be England?”
“All right, but you must follow orders this time. You can’t be a French spy again.”
“Hmph.” Cora folded her arms, her plan to stab Duncan in the back again thwarted. “S’no fun.”
“And at least try work on your accent!”
Alice piped up. “I want tae be England too!” After all, England always won the game.
Duncan threw his arms up in the air. “We can’t all be England!”
She pouted, clutching the poppet to her chest as she muttered: “I’m always the Jacobite.”
“But you get the artillery. If you hit us both, you win.”
Alice considered the pile of pebbles at her feet, provided to even the odds, and shrugged.
The matter settled, Alice was left to wait on the bridge while Duncan and Cora ran into the forest. She knew Duncan would be briefing Cora on his strategy, which would inevitably involve Cora running out to subdue her while Duncan took the bridge.
Melancholy settled over her as she stared at the water, feeling lonely without the others nearby. Alice had yet to spot her mother here. The bean-nigue was supposed to wash clothes beside the river—so where was she?
Alice had tried coming at different times of day, phases of the moon. Sometimes she would squint, or try to see out of the corners of her eyes, but always she was without luck.
Once, she spotted evidence of a kelpie, despite Duncan’s laughing insistence that it was likely the hoof prints of his father’s horse. Alice knew better, but decided to say nothing more of her personal quest to the others.
Had her mother been out here on the river before Nurse died, washing her faded gray dress? Perhaps she only appeared before an imminent death, and Alice had missed her.
She thought of the stories Nurse had told her. How every river had a spirit watching over it; how the spirit of the River Forth was soundless as the water itself. Surely it would hold the answers she sought, if she were brave enough to call on it.
“Let me see Mama,” she begged.
Alice held her breath, but there was no answer. Of course, if she asked for a boon, she needed to give something in return.
Alice clutched her poppet wistfully and crouched down on the western side of the bridge, where the water flowed beneath it. Gently, she placed Rushen Coatie on the water, knowing a poppet to be a small price to pay compared to a living, breathing mother.
The moment Alice released its arm, doubt assuaged her. What if Mama was changed from the saint her Papa remembered? What if she had just summoned a terrible old hag who did not recognize her, and would freeze all her limbs like in the stories?
Alice gasped and ran to the other side of the bridge, attempting to snatch the poppet from the surface of the water. A failed first attempt had her reaching too far on the second, and she fell in with a great splash.
Alice knew how to tread water—but that when it was still, and certainly not in full dress. She came up sputtering, but the weight in her boots, skirts, and stays dragged her down again. She broke the surface once more to take in a single breath before the river overpowered her completely.
The silence that surrounded her felt like an awful acceptance. She understood now her wish had been granted. The river would show Alice her mother after all; in drowning her, it would simply bring Alice to her.
A yank caused her to release the last of her air, but she was pulled up and out of the water. Somehow, Duncan was pulling her ashore.
“Alice!” Cora shrieked, running to her side. “What happened?!”
Alice could do nothing but cough raucously into the dirt as her sister began to sob. She tried to explain, but only managed to make the words “Rushen Coatie” heard, and pointed to the river.
“Ye went after your poppet?!”
Alice looked to Duncan in a desperate plea.
“Of course I didn’t get your poppet, Alice! You almost drowned!”
They didn’t understand—a bargain had been struck. If the river accepted her gift, then it could claim her too. Alice rolled onto her stomach and made to crawl for the water again, only to be held back by them both.
Cora screamed at her through her tears. “Stupid, we’ll make ye another one!”
For once, Duncan was the one trying to calm the situation. “You’re all right, aren’t you Alice? We’ll take you home, have some tea. How does that sound, Alice? Cora? Everyone’s fine. It’s all right.”
Alice clung to Duncan as he carried her back home. He stared ahead as if in a daze, with Alice wheezing and dripping water all the way.
8 August 1757
“Heyward saved your life.”
Uncas sounded thoughtful. He likely lost all respect for Duncan when he refused to call the attack on the Camerons’ home for what it was, but Alice hoped this new knowledge would earn him some back.
“He’s not all bad, you know.”
Alice attempted a weak smile, but it wavered.
“I don’t know how he got to me so fast. I didn’t see him before, wasn’t able to scream.” She looked away. “I’ve avoided that river ever since. Cora thinks I’m afraid of the water but truthfully—I’m afraid of what I asked—of what resides there. I don’t know what’s more foolish—believing in such things, or having dealt with them.” She buried her face in her hands. “Oh, it was all my fault.”
He tightened his hold around her waist. “No. You were young. Should never have been left alone.”
Alice shook her head, tense and unrelenting in his arms as she tried to control her heavy breathing.
“We left for London shortly after, when the Jacobites began their advance. It was so easy to forget about it there. But here, now, all I can think, is how everyone’s going to die—I’m going to die—and maybe I should have—but I—I don’t want to—“ She broke off, her throat constricted, her gasping breaths out of control. She hated being this pathetic, this vulnerable, yet simultaneously craved his understanding and forgiveness.
“No. Told you, I won’t let that happen.”
He drew her into his chest, and she did not resist. She waited for him to say something else, but what more could she possibly ask for than that? So she focused instead on the strength of him, and willed some of it for herself.
It was all the more difficult with the intermittent shelling still going on. He must have sensed that, because he shifted so that one ear was pressed against his chest, and covered the other with his hand, so that the beating of his heart drowned out all other sound. Eventually she calmed again, the numbness in her face retreating.
She stayed there as long as she could, breathing in his scent, until finally she had to accept that her arm was uncomfortably pinned beneath her, and rolled onto her back. She looked up at him, seeing endless patience and compassion. What did he see in her that kept him here? Was she simply a broken thing that needed mending? There was so little she could offer him in return—instead, she only took.
He ran a finger across her dry cheek. “You don’t cry.”
She wished she could say it was because she was too indomitable, like her sister, or simply too dignified. The truth was, she had become so accustomed to locking up all wrought emotions inside herself over the years that she simply forgot how.
“Can’t.” She placed her palm against her chest. “It hurts sometimes. Here, and behind my eyes.”
He leaned down and kissed her on the bridge of her nose, then, slowly removing her hand, placed another kiss beneath her collarbone.
It had become easy to tell him these things. At first, she told herself, he was leaving anyway, so what was the harm if he scorned her? When he didn’t, it became almost a challenge to say, Look, see how utterly ridiculous I am? And when he didn’t laugh, when he kissed her instead....
The action was no soothing balm—at least, not physically. Instead, the sharp pain reasserted itself along with a tug of something raw yet sweet.
She sighed and ran her fingers through his hair, encouraging him as he kissed his way up her neck until he found her mouth. It was languid and tender, and she was once more lost in the comfort of him.
Alice wrapped her arms around his waist, her fingers trailing across the outline of his bandage before releasing him hastily. Had she hurt him? Without hesitating, Uncas snatched up her hand and placed it right back where it was. She couldn’t help but smile, and he did the same before returning to their task.
Eventually he shifted away from her, trailing kisses across her cheek as he did so. She held still as she watched him, keeping herself in check despite the urge to throw herself against him once more.
“Alice...” Uncas took her hand and kissed it, then closed his eyes, holding her hand to his chest.
She smiled. “I think I’ll keep you. Take you back home.”
He cracked his eyes open with skeptical amusement. “To Scotland? Think I’d stand out.”
“I’ll hide you in the forest. We could build a cabin.”
He seemed to ponder the notion. “How’s the hunting?”
“We raise sheep.” At his dismissive grunt, she looked up at him and added: “There’s grouse and some deer though. And good fishing. Salmon and trout.”
He smiled. “Not bad. Long journey over sea, though. Would rather take you to Can-tuck-kee.”
She settled back down. “What would we do there?”
“Build a wigwam in the Delaware camp. Can’t leave it, though.”
“Never leave the camp?”
“No, the wigwam.”
She released a breath of laughter. “What?!”
“Not with your father looking for you! Anyone saw you, word would spread.”
“You could at least take me into the woods sometimes.”
“Nope. Keep you secret from even the birds.”
She exhaled deeply. “That wouldn’t do.”
He ran a hand down her hair, which had by now mostly fallen out of her braid, and closed his eyes once more. Wrung out from the stress of the night, her body succumbed to exhaustion.
Alice woke to a dull gray light filling the room. The shelling had stopped, and the shouts had abated. Uncas remained beside her, looking to the window.
She studied him, committing his image to memory. Everything about this man was so arresting and strange, so different from anything that she had known before. In many ways, he remained an enigma both in body and soul. Surely she had heard this tale before: a romance with an otherworldly prince was almost certainly doomed to failure.
He turned to her, saw she was awake.
Their time was running short. All too soon, they would both be gone from here. He made a move to get up, but Alice stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.
She felt a new surge of desperation as she climbed over him. Their their lips crashed together, arms wrapping around each other in a passionate embrace. She held him tight and pressed every curve of her body into him as her tongue explored his mouth.
She needed more, but was too inexperienced, too unsure of herself to know what to do next. She rolled off him, tugging at his shoulders as she parted her legs beneath her skirt, reversing their positions so he could take the lead. Under different circumstances she may be content to take a slow pace: a comfortable stroll, a lingering touch against her wrist, a chaste kiss. Perhaps... but there was only now.
Above her, he froze.
“Why do you stop?” To her chagrin, Alice’s whisper betrayed her desperation and confusion.
He leaned his forehead against hers. “Is this what you want? Won’t see each other—“
He smiled, but still held on to his doubt. She held back a groan of frustration.
“I just want something good.” Her fingertips brushed his cheek. “Don’t you?”
To her delight, he needed no further prompting, kissing her deeply as he settled on top of her. His hand roamed up from her hip to cup one breast through the fabric of her bodice. Her breath hitched and she arched her back into him, her hands sliding down to rest on either side of his waist as she enjoyed the new pleasure along with the warmth spreading throughout her body.
She found the edge of his shirt and slid her hands beneath it to grip the bare skin above his leggings. Groaning against her mouth, he pressed himself against her in a way that made Alice throw her head back with a gasp. She had never felt anything like it. Her hands moved beneath his shirt to his lower back, encouraging the way he grinded against her, never wanting it to end.
“Alice... ah, Nushètu...”
He shifted off of her. She tugged at him in protest until she felt his hand move down over her skirt to rub between her legs. She let out a strangled sound and writhed against him, losing all thought as his mouth met hers once more.
A knock sounded on the door. Instantly, Uncas rolled off the bed and had his weapons in hand.
“Girls?” Her father’s voice—the door began to open.
“Wait!” Alice gasped out, her eyes darting from the door to Uncas. She frowned at him in consternation. He placed his weapons in his belt, raising his empty hands in apology as she called out to Papa. “I’m not decent!”
This time, it was Uncas’s turn to stare at her. Her hand flew to her mouth. If he were to be discovered regardless, the need to right her clothing first was not going to earn him any favors.
Papa’s voice sounded through the crack in the door. “We’re to parlay with the French. Everything all right?”
“Very well. The guards will remain to protect you.”
She relaxed for a second, then started. “Oh, no, that’s—that’s quite all right Papa, no need...”
But there was no response.
She ran to the window, where she could see her father already walking onto the parade ground, overseeing the formation of soldiers by company as they exited the fort. She drew in a breath and turned to Uncas. Though his face remained coolly impassive, she could feel the air of the condemned about him.
Alice had not considered the risk he took by visiting her here. Why hadn’t he said anything earlier? It would have been easier to sneak him out during the night. Instead, he had stayed—for her.
She went to him, reached up and caressed his cheek.
“It seems our night is over.” She spoke softly, lest they be overheard.
He took her hand and kissed it. “Bed had a lump in it anyway.”
She smiled weakly. “I’ll distract the guards.”
She shrugged. “Throw a fit. Barring that, I’ll faint.”
“That always work?”
An answer, she sighed, closed her eyes, and let her legs buckle beneath her. He caught her easily, and she opened her eyes with a grin.
“Guess so.” He smiled back and bent to kiss her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and responded enthusiastically until he broke it off with a murmur against her lips.
“Hope this isn’t part of your plan too.”
She laughed softly and swatted at his chest as she regained her feet. His expression shifted as he leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
“Just... need a moment.”
She frowned, but careful observation of him revealed a protusion beneath his breechcloth. She blushed and looked away. She wasn’t entirely sure of the significance of such a state, but had overheard enough bawdy talk to realize she had something to do with it.
A pleased thrill coursed through her and she risked another curious glance before hurrying to ready herself for the day. After all, there would be no rest until the parlay was concluded, and their fate delivered.
Alice sat on the edge of the bed, trying not to think of what had just occurred on it as she put her boots back on, then froze. The area between her legs was disturbingly damp. She looked to the sheets on the bed in horror, but as she smoothed them into place, saw no evidence of her monthly courses.
Standing back, she ran her hands over her skirt with another surreptitious look. No, it was too soon for it to start again, so that couldn’t be it. Was this something that was supposed to happen as well? How could she not just know these things? Cora would be the one to ask, but the very idea made her want to cringe.
She looked up to see Uncas watching her, his narrowed eyes holding an idle speculation as his lips curved into a self-satisfied smile. She blushed again, feeling heat course down her neck, and... elsewhere.
She half-whispered, half-mouthed: “Stop that!”
To both her relief and disappointment, Uncas complied, turning his attention to the area around him. He frowned at the floor and began scuffing out parts of it. Alice watched with amused affection as she realized he was removing evidence of moccasin prints in the newly fallen dust.
Only he would notice such a thing.
She continued readying herself. Once finished combing her hair, Alice felt it being gathered back from her shoulders. She turned to look at Uncas, but felt his hand on the back of her head, guiding it forward again.
As she felt a gentle tug on her hair, she realized he was braiding it. She grinned at the absurdity of a man doing so, only to realize it wasn’t absurd at all. In fact, it was achingly sweet. She plucked up a pink ribbon from the drawer and handed it back to him, allowing him to tie off the end of the braid. Foolishly, she wondered what he would do if she asked him to keep it instead, as a token of her affection.
She turned to him with a delighted whisper. “You braided my hair!”
He looked down at her, bemused. “Was just—“
She cut him off with an enthusiastic kiss then snatched up the comb to return the favor. The upper half of his hair remained well in place, so she simply detangled the bottom half and redid the small braid by his temple, blushing as she felt Uncas watch her. She tied it off carefully, red feather secured, and looked to him for approval. He responded by kissing her until it became clear they’d either need to return to the bed or move on.
Once ready, they made a hasty plan. Before Alice could lose her nerve, she pocketed a spyglass with which to view the proceedings outside and made for the inner door.
Uncas caught her in one last fierce embrace from behind, kissed her cheek, and released her. She smiled and whispered to him. “Find you again?” At his nod, she released a breath, raised her chin, and opened the door.
Alice stepped out, shutting the door behind her with a clang, but careful to push it back a jot before it could latch properly.
Only one guard stood in front of this door. Good.
She insisted he accompany her to the ramparts and marched off. At his hesitation, she glanced back.
“Did my father not say you were to guard me?”
He frowned at that, then fell into step beside her.
“Just as far as the ramparts, miss.”
“Of course.” She gave him a winning smile and set off. Once she reached the base of the ramp she thanked the soldier graciously, glancing up to see Uncas across the parade ground, making his way safely to his barracks.
As she ascended the ramparts, she let out a sigh of relief.
- Sorry for the delay in posting, folks! My outline for this chapter was basically just “Alice and Uncas get to make out”—but there was a lot I needed to include at some point before they left the fort. Also I may have rewritten parts multiple times but I think it was worth it. Annnd I may have wasted a lot of time going down Wikipedia wormholes for later chapters. If you want to know all about the postal system in this time period, I’m your girl.
- Also sorry for all the gratuitous kissing and awkward firsts. Just kidding, I’m not! ;)
- In the movieverse, the 42nd Highlanders were stationed at Ford William Henry. They were made up of members more than one clan, but among them were Munros, whose battle cry is as described above.
- The scene with a man trying to diffuse a bomb before it explodes was in the script, but didn’t make it into the movie. RIP nameless soldier.
- In the movie, Alice mentions returning to Portman Square, which was newly developed at the time. The houses were first beginning to be leased in 1755. I imagine Edmund Munro, being stationed in America, would not have had the opportunity to purchase one, so I decided it was Eugenie’s.
- Rev. Wheelock’s school is mentioned by Hawkeye at the burial ground. It refers to Eleazar Wheelock’s charity school for Indians, which later became Dartmouth. So basically Uncas & Nathaniel were educated at Dartmouth. ;) The real school wasn’t founded until 1750, when they had grown up, but it’s canon so we’re rolling with it.
- If the Scottish accents are too difficult to understand as I’ve written them, please let me know and I’ll change them. For reference: “to ken” is “to know or remember”, “to greet” is “to cry”
- Rushen Coatie is the Scottish version of Cinderella, so named because she was given a coat of rushes to wear.
- The Picts believed each river had its own spirit, which had the same properties as the river itself. The river Forth is a quietly flowing river, and so its ‘goddess’ was called the Deaf or Soundless One.
- In this time period, children wore stays for their posture. Even little boys!
- Lastly, I’m going to put my big girl pants on, and finally outright ask for some constructive criticism. Typos, historical inaccuracies, redundancies, any and everything is welcome!
Songs for this chapter:
Be Scared With Me by Canyon City
Intertwined by dodie