On the list of the first Mayflower’s passengers, I am an unnamed servant to John Carver. Then I become Francis Eaton’s second wife. Call me Tempest, for I was a storm in their blood. The Pilgrim fathers needed me to sate their carnal appetites, while they pampered the wives they hoped would give them children with pedigrees.
We had been there in New Plimouth for one narrow, pinched year of scraping the ground, carrying logs on our backs, cleaning the linens of the dead. And then we had the feast.
Eaton’s child had not yet stretched my belly big enough for the men to see, but I knew he was inside me. My first male child, my salvation, the surety of marriage into the pilgrim clan. My prayers of thanks were all for the lust of Francis Eaton and the fertility of his loins. While his first wife lay dying he had paid Carver for a turn between my legs. Since Carver’s seed had never taken, I knew this child was Eaton’s. Soon he would know about that too.
But I was still a servant at the feast. On the second night, I was at the edge of the firelight minding the large kettle when I saw her for the first time. A cold moon cast silver patches into the forest, and one glint caught the shape of her head. Her shape took its form out of the blackness, her eyes glinted red in the firelight.
A movement from her lips sucked the air from my throat before I could scream, and her hand made a circle and some corners in the air. A trembling warmth started from my feet and traveled up my body. This strange vibration reached the top of my head and traveled back down, making a slow turn around my womb before racing back down into the earth.
The she-devil smiled at me, an old Indian witch with wild grey hair. I was awed by the power she commanded, but not afraid. The voyage, the deaths, the rapes, the corpses may have put me beyond fear of anything, but I knew this witch was not going to kill me. She and I were cut from the same cloth.
We were cunning women and survivors.
That was the second day of the Feast of Thanksgiving in the New World. On the third day, Massassoit’s men brought two huge deer into the village. Of course it was expected that I would prepare the beasts for roasting. I sharpened my master’s knife for the thousandth time and slit the belly of the buck. As I scooped out the entrails, an overwhelming nausea brought bile to my throat, and I fell to my knees. There was a flash at the corner of my eye. A brown hand holding a black stone appeared before me and began to slice through muscle and tendon as if it were butter. I did not need to turn my head to know it was her. The black blade had a red glow deep within its glassy surface. With shaking hands I continued the work by her side.
When I turned to open the doe’s soft belly, I looked into the Grandmother’s face for the first time. Fine lines traced the crow’s feet of a happy youth at the edges of her eyes. Deep furrows made steady paths across her forehead, she had known much fear and worry, but the firm unwrinkled jut of her chin bespoke a courage that had never admitted defeat. Her eyes burned into mine, as I had expected they would, but I pulled the curtain across my mind before she could scry me. Her dark face registered a moment of surprise before she pushed my shoulder, speaking softly but very sternly in words that had no meaning to me; however, I knew to stop all movement and await her permission to move again. In a single slashing motion, she split the deer from breast to anus and scooped the uterus from the animal with her left hand. Holding the tiny fetus toward the sun, she chanted rapidly and carried it a small distance into the trees. When she returned, she grunted and pulled my hand toward the doe. We finished dressing the deer in silence. Before she turned to leave, she held a small piece of liver to my mouth and motioned to me to eat it. I swallowed it quickly. She nodded and was gone.
I knew she was my ally, then. I did not see her again for five long months. By then she would be the only person on this earth I wanted to see.