Kanuna stood silently in the soft, grassy meadow, taking in deep gulps of the fresh spring air. The winter had been timeless and bitter, but now spring was here. It was only a few weeks ago when Kanuna had noticed the first little shoot of grass shyly peek its head through the silent blanket of snow. Now, there was not a single patch of ice or snow left. The rivers were teeming with snowmelt, and the meadows were as vibrant as ever. He felt as if the spring were the best thing that could happen to him right now.
Kanuna strode over to the river. He could just barely make out the form of his mother, standing at the edge of their village.
“Kanuna!” his mother called. “Kanuna, is that you?”
“Yes!” he shouted over the roaring river.
“Get over here,” his mother scolded. Kanuna deftly got into the canoe, picked up the paddle, and crossed the river.
“Go to your father. Don’t you remember—he’s teaching you how to hunt today,” Kanuna’s mother scolded. How could he have forgotten? Kanuna slapped himself in the forehead. He’d been looking forward to this for a while.
“Hello, son,” called his father. There are many benefits to having a father who is the chief of a tribe. Today, he was going to learn how to hunt.
“Follow me!” he called. They walked for half an hour until his father suddenly halted.
“Be careful and quiet,” he whispered toward Kanuna, who was still ten feet behind him. There was a deer in the meadow. Kanuna shivered with excitement. He drew his bow and, under his father’s instruction, aimed for the eye and fired. The arrow went straight and clean, into the eye. It would have been a quick and painless death for the deer. They carefully made their way out. They were halfway across the clearing when the gunshots went off. Wild with fear, Kanuna looked to his father for help.
“Ru-” his father was cut off as a terrible gurgling noise issued from his mouth. Kanuna looked at the chief’s chest and saw a bright red dot spreading itself slowly but persistently across his shirt.
Kanuna started sprinting across the meadow. He was at the treeline when he was cut off by a horse rearing up in front of him. The last thing he saw was a hoof hitting him in the forehead before he blacked out.
* * *
Charles woke up with his head buried in the pillow. He sat up, coughing in the acrid fumes of burning firewood, his father’s cologne, the stink from a dead bird on the roof that was far along in the rotting process, and his own sweat.
“Charles!” his father shouted up the stairs. “Are you up yet?” He gagged in response.
“Well get a move on!” his father said. “Don’t you remember? You’re coming with us today to secure more territory!” Charles had been waiting for this day his whole life. There were benefits of having a father who was the warden.
He and his father had come on a ship to the thirteen colonies, just like the rest of the town. But having no second-incommand, when the mayor was killed by the natives, the responsibility of leadership fell on him. Charles’s father was the warden of the town prison, and he burned with a hatred for the Native Americans. His sole goal was to conquer land for farming. People still called him Warden, although he should not have been called that anymore.
“On my way!” Charles called. A half hour later he, his father, and ten or so other settlers were seated on their horses.
“Follow me!” called his father to the band of settlers. “Be cautious! The natives are extremely hostile.” Charles wondered why the natives were opposing them. They were just taking what was rightfully theirs, after all.
Half an hour later, they came to a clearing. Everyone spread out in a half circle around it. There were no natives; the settlers’ attention was on a deer. They were licking their lips and loading their muskets when an arrow soared out through the clearing, hitting the deer straight in the eye. The warden quickly held a finger to his lips, silencing the others. A grown man and his son, both natives, crept out into the clearing.
“Fire!” the warden shouted. A musket went off and the man dropped to the ground. The child ran across the meadow towards the trees. One of the settlers cut him off and, while it was rearing, his horse’s hoof knocked against the child’s forehead, a bruise already blossoming yellow, purple, and black. He slumped to the ground, unconscious. Charles’s father commanded the settlers to move forward and he tied the child up and slung him over the saddle.
Charles looked from the bruised child to his father, lying now in a pool of blood. Numbly, he thought, This is why they’re hostile. In fact, we’re the hostile ones, and they’re just defending themselves.
The rest of the ride home was quiet, but there was an air of victory among all but Charles. The group dispersed, and he was left alone with his father and the unconscious form now slumped on the ground.
“What did you think?” the warden asked. Charles just nodded. Honestly, this had been the worst day of his life, but he wasn’t about to tell his father that.
“Go put this child in the cellar and lock the door, there’s a good boy,” ordered his father. Charles tromped down the stairs, his and the boy’s weight combined making the pine boards creak. The cellar was a damp and moldy room, with brick walls, a stone floor, and one small window with iron bars on it. Just as Charles was closing the heavy oak door, he saw motion behind it.
“I know you can’t understand me,” he whispered, “but I’m so very, truly sorry.” Then he closed the door and slid the iron deadbolt into place.
* * *
Kanuna woke up in a boy’s strong arms. The boy seemed to be about his age. He was unceremoniously thrown on a damp stone floor. His forehead throbbed where the horse had hit it. He wished he could dunk it in some cool water from the river at home.
“Oi noor eew kahnt oendrstaint mee,” the boy whispered, “boot eiam soew varree, troolee sairee.”
The boy whispered words Kanuna did not understand, then shut the door and slid something heavy into place on the other side. Kanuna was left alone, the only company he had a solitary rat scuttling across the stone floor. His head throbbed once, and he remembered. His father! His father, lying there, shirt stained red. And Kanuna broke. He sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. Finally, when his eyes were red from crying, he slumped against a broken hay bale in the corner of the cell. He wondered, would he ever get out of here?
* * *
The grassy meadow was soft beneath his feet. Kanuna thought back to the night when that boy had helped him escape. The boy who had captured him. The boy who had talked to him. The boy who had pitied him. The boy who took a musket pellet in the leg for him. The boy who stood up to a vicious father for him. He was ever grateful. But the hole that his father had left in his heart would never disappear. He could fill it in, and he would go on with life. Eat. Drink. Sleep. Hunt. Love. Yes, holes could be filled in, but the dirt was always softer where they had been. But right now, he was going to enjoy life as it was. Everything was perfect on a summer’s morning, and he was free.