“The Savage” (2015)
Nathaniel stumbled toward the gates, his musket etching a crooked line in the parched ground behind him as he neared the palisade’s columns. Smoke rose from beyond the gate posts, the settlement’s cabins smoldering in the merciless heat that consumed the English in this hellish and unforgiving limbo they called the New World. Nathan could just make out his own cabin through blurred vision. He leaned against one of the columns for support. His neck ached and he massaged the muscle, a fruitless endeavor, for the wound was stubborn and would not heal. His stomach moaned loudly. His mouth watered knowing Constance would have dinner prepared. Venison stew. It was always venison stew.
The Almighty had tested him in this foreign world and he had failed. Failed his God, his Queen, his people, and himself, tempted by exotic flesh. She had acquiesced willingly, too willingly he realized too late, but bending her to his will had been another matter entirely. Though she donned the attire and customs of civilized people, she remained, in her heart, as wild as this bitter world. He kept her hidden from his people and her own, their union having been forbidden by all. Perhaps Moses would not even have made a case for Nathaniel’s Zipporah in this place.
The thought of her as she had been, bronze skin slick with sweat, beads of moisture dotting her breasts like the rare gems of a noblewoman before gathering to slither down her navel and to the mound between her legs, stirred his anger. She was confident in her skin and ignorant of her sin, but she was the mistress of Satan. He could see that now. The need to possess her had consumed him in an instant. He was half-crazed with hunger when he saw her kneeling beside the doe felled by his musket. At that moment, his hunger became ever-present and remained to this day, unabated, for which no remedy would ever be found. No reason or clarity of mind passed in those brief moments when first he saw her crouched on the forest floor. He could not distinguish her from woman or doe, such was his hunger, and both creatures were his to command by God’s own word. He mounted her in an instant, grunting like a buck, violently urged by her protests. When he finished, she was unresponsive. He carried her under cover of darkness back to his cabin. The heat and excitement had been too much for her, he thought. He nursed her all that night, loved her and cared for his new wife as a husband should.
Her moon blood had ceased soon after, a blessing from God, surely. Their union was not recognized by England or the southern savages, but who were mortals to question the will of God? Had God not blessed His chosen people with the spoils of the lands they conquered?
Nathaniel had tried to instruct her in language, custom, and faith, as his father had instructed his mother. Constance, he called her, a cleansing Christian name, and one she had come to honor, though not in the way he intended. She proved an adept student despite the dumb nature of the new world inhabitants. He marveled in those early days at how quickly she mastered his tongue. But though she mastered his language and customs, she refused to accept him as her lord and by extension, she refused his God, the one true God. Her god was a woman. Mother was the name she gave to her delusion. He often found her engaged in the pagan customs of her previous life.
To his horror, she had taken to walking beyond the settlement at night. Her disobedience roused an anger in him so violent, it commanded her immediate discipline. Before whipping her, he had bound her hands and stuffed her mouth with linen lest their union be discovered by her resistance, but she continued her walks despite his admonition. Eventually, he suffered her these walks to pick herbs and mushrooms in the forest -for so she claimed was the nature of her wanderings- but only as a reward for her willingness to obey him in all other matters. She always returned, and no one ever saw her come or go. And she cooked for him, the strange dishes of her people at first, and the venison stew, which of late, he had grown accustomed as she cooked nothing else. Though she cured his physical hunger for a time, his lust for her was all-consuming and never faded due to her rebellious nature and avoidance of authority. He watched as others in the colony starved. Their supplies and food stocks dwindled. For whatever reason, no ship returned from England to reinforce the garrison’s provisions. Perhaps, God was testing them as he had tested Nathaniel, and the others had failed to trust in the Lord. Nathaniel’s faith never wavered. Not once. God said he would provide, and so he had. At least, that is what Nathaniel thought at the time and so, he felt no shame or guilt at having a full belly each night.
In England, Nathaniel was betrothed, against his will, to the plump and mundane daughter of one of his father’s contemporaries, a woman for whom he had no desire. She was dull in both appearance and mind. Her handsome dowry though was as supple as her hips. She possessed a body which would no doubt bear strong, English sons. He hoped the loathsome creature would abandon the contract due to his inconvenient posting with the colony. If his departure for the New World wasn’t enough to dissolve the betrothal, surely the bastard babe Constance now carried would suffice. If the babe was of his blood.
Nathaniel had long suspected Constance’s forest wanderings were of a treacherous and duplicitous nature for which he feared the Queen’s justice. He reached now to his neck at the thought of the noose that would surely seal his fate. Would that he’d not followed her that evening and observed her with the warrior. Would that he’d never seen her at all. Fool, he thought. She had knelt beside the savage as she had the doe, hands moving with intended precision over the earth. The meeting ended in a passionate kiss between warrior and whore. She had never responded to his own kisses in such a manner, nor had she ever initiated passion the way she wantonly begged it from the southerner that night. He cursed himself for having never bothered to learn her language. The warrior pushed her away, a move she protested. She clung to his arms, punched his chest, but the warrior pushed her away again with more force this time. The warrior looked pained to send her away, Nathan could comprehend that much, but as to the soothing words whispered to Constance before disappearing in the woods, Nathan was at a loss. What had he said? Constance watched as the warrior departed. Her shoulders shook with silent tears. She wiped her eyes with her fist before departing in the opposite direction, back toward the fort.
She would have dinner prepared when he arrived. She would seek to please him, covering her deceit as she had done from the first day of their union, no doubt. How she had taken him for a fool, and how he had trusted those dark, innocent eyes. Nathaniel studied the stick and stone depiction of the settlement Constance had constructed on the moonlit moss patched forest floor. His own cabin, marked with a leaf, stood out to him and he felt his pulse quicken as panic settled in his chest. The situation was far worse than he imagined. Panic gave way to anger and his heart stilled temporarily by her betrayal. His head ached as he fought for breath. He sat on the forest floor trying to control his breathing, his anger, and his pain. His fist cleared the fort map in one swipe as he fought to maintain composure, to keep from crying out in rage lest the sound of his grief alert any nearby to his presence.
On the slow walk back to the fort that night, he vowed to give rest to his wrath before Constance’s chastisement, so great was his anger he feared he would be too harsh. He could escape with her if he chose, or, he could leave her to her own fate. He said nothing upon his arrival at the cabin, intent on keeping his peace. He heard the words of God in his mind. Be slow to wrath. He would alert the others, but first, he needed to discern the truth of the warrior’s relationship to Constance. He fought to steady his anger. However, he found it increasingly difficult to suffer the knowledge of her deceit in silence, though he tried to find a way to divulge the information without losing his temper. He ate the venison stew in silence. He read the Bible in silence as she cleaned the crockery. The hours passed as seconds it seemed in the time since he’d left the forest. He knew he had to inform the colony, but not just yet. It was time for her lessons. Constance sat on the straw pallet near the hearth. His wrath burned hot when she smiled down at her womb as the babe stirred inside. He knew enough of the matters of women to know her belly swelled too soon. Nathaniel could no longer abide the sin growing inside her belly where the warrior’s hands had rested during that kiss. To hell with the Queen and the colony. It mattered not now. Most of them were already dead. He would have the truth.
The murmur from his stomach drew him back to the present. He dispelled the grim remembrances of the past with a final rub to his aching neck before passing through the columns. He urged his broken, weary body on, propelled by the thought of a warm bowl of venison stew, the mental image of his supper shaded by both gratitude and disgust. The New World yielded not to English seeds or labor. She was as savage as her inhabitants. Hunting and fishing had been poor as well, the woods and waterways claimed by the natives. Tension with the southern savages had made procurement of necessities difficult with many Englishmen falling under hostile arrows.
He kicked the dust from his boots before entering the one-room cabin. He left his gun by the door, which he then bolted behind him. A fire burned in the hearth, deceptively comforting with its crackling and popping. In his youth, the sound had always made him feel at ease, but in his own marriage, it did little to bring warmth or comfort. The bowl of venison stew sat on the table, a hunk of molded bread to its left, a cup of fetid water to its right. Constance sat on the bench compliant and stony, hands folded in her lap, hair in disarray falling in ebony strands that hid her face from view. He sat down on the chair to her right then cleared his aching throat to pray.
“O Lord, which givest thy creatures for our food, herbs, beasts, birds, fish, and other gifts of thine, bless they thy gifts, that they may do us good, and we may live, to praise thy name divine. And when the time has come for this life to end, vouchsafe our souls to heaven may ascend.”
Nathaniel began to eat but Constance remained still, head bent, eyes trained on her folded hands. When he finished, he leaned back in his chair and muffled a burp with his fist.
“Venison is tough,” he said.
Constance did not respond.
“Look at me when I speak!” He slammed his fist on the table rattling the crockery. How many times must I tell you what is proper?”
Constance remained silent. She was testing him, but he would not yield to provocation.
Nathaniel grunted. “Eat.”
He worried at his teeth with a dirty fingernail seeking to extract a bit of wedged meat. Working it free, he flicked it, laughing when the morsel landed on Constance’s folded hands. Her body tensed, but still, she did not speak. Nor did she eat. He smirked at her unease.
“Fine. If you won’t eat, clear the table. It’s time for your lessons.”
Her hands shook as she cleaned, the sound of the clinking crockery echoing in the quiet cabin. He read the Bible silently as she cleared the table then wiped the bowls clean.
At last, she climbed atop the table. She laid on her back, hands by her side and waited, dark eyes staring up at the thatched ceiling. Nathaniel averted his eyes from the face he’d once thought a sweet dream in a cruel world, the face that was now, a never-ending nightmare. His penance, he reckoned. So be it then.
He walked to the hearth retrieving his saw and a log then returned to Constance’s side.
“Hold it,” he commanded thrusting the log into her chest.
She obediently held the log over her face as she had done numerous times before.
“Faith and discipline are necessary if you seek entrance to Heaven. Have you faith in the Almighty God?” Nathaniel asked as he slowly began to cut through the center of the log with the saw.
Constance said nothing but continued to stare at the ceiling.
“You persist in your paganism. You have condemned us all with your sinful ways.”
The blade cut deeper, faster, but Constance did not flinch not even as the log broke in two. Satisfied, Nathaniel walked from the room replacing the saw with the other tools near the hearth. He could hear her moving from the table, feet shuffling unevenly on the wood as she stumbled behind him to the straw pallet on the floor. He turned to her and opened his mouth to speak, but closed it, numbed by her childish silence. She stood staring down at the pallet her back to him. Still so bent on disobedience! She did not reach for her shift nor did she undress. He watched her, unsure what to do or say. At last, she turned and laid on the bed.
He gave her a moment to compose herself then crossed the short distance between them and knelt before her. “I didn’t mean to,” he began.
Constance stared above him to the ceiling refusing his gaze.
Nathaniel sighed. “You know what it is I ask of you. Look at me when I speak! You know your wifely duties. I require obedience and honor at all times, in all things, as is my right as your husband and as is your duty as my wife, before God. Why is that so difficult for you to understand? Why must you move me to discipline?” He stood and sighed once more waving a hand in the air as he spoke again, “You are a vile daughter of Eve, and left to your own devices you are weak-willed, easily led astray, and were it not for me, you would continue to seek the pleasure of strange men.” He paced before the hearth now, his voice rising, “I do my duty as a God-fearing man to lead this family so that we may never be touched by the fires of Hell.”
He was beside her again in two steps, kneeling once more, pleading, “You are my wife. You must obey me.” He laid his head on her thighs placing his hands on her womb and wept. She offered no comfort, not that he’d expected a civilized response from the savage. He raised his head to look at her face but could not. He focused instead on his hunched shadow dancing on the cabin door thrown from the soft light of the dying fire. He reached a hand to move the unruly strands of hair that hid her face but paused and let his hand drop back to her womb. His body shook as he began to cry. She should have heeded his commands.
Enraged by a final, defiant movement in her womb, the reminder of her betrayal, he stood and shouted, “What do you want from me?” Contrite tears dried in an instant. He paced the floor once more before the hearth.
She mocked him with her silence. After everything he had done for her, she remained hellbent to sin. An evil creature. Such was the nature of women. His father had been right.
“Leave me, you wretched witch. End this madness,” he cried. “I should have burned you and hastened your journey to hell. I will not grieve the loss of Satan’s whore one moment longer.”
Nathaniel reached down by the hearth retrieving the length of rope that lay next to the reddened saw. He walked from the room and mounted the table. He knotted the rope securely to the beam. Jerked the line to ensure it would hold. He then slipped the noose around his neck.
“Father, deliver me from this madness. Deliver me from the demons of Hell. Deliver me from evil, oh God, for I am your most humble and obedient servant.”
He stepped from the table. His legs jerked. His eyes bulged from the pressure of the noose. He raked his dirty nails over neck and rope shredding both as his lungs fought for air. His neck bled and burned as his head grew light. The cabin walls faded from view. Somewhere in the distance, he could hear the roar of fire and the howls of the damned.
Nathaniel stumbled toward the gates, his musket etching a crooked line in the parched ground behind him as he neared the palisade’s columns. Smoke rose from beyond the gate posts, the settlement’s cabins smoldering in the merciless heat that consumed the English in this hellish and unforgiving limbo they called the New World. Nathan could just make out his own cabin through blurred vision. He leaned against one of the columns for support. His neck ached. He massaged the muscle, a fruitless endeavor, for the wound was stubborn and would not heal. His stomach moaned loudly. His mouth watered knowing Constance would have dinner prepared.
It was always venison stew.