In a land where prejudice thrives, how can their love ever hope to flourish?
Born of a forbidden love affair between her mother and an American soldier, in the 1850s, Chenoa with her bold spirit, has been raised Christian.
After the malevolent Colonel John Hart attacks Great-Oak's tribe, Chenoa finds herself imprisoned, mourning the loss of those dearest to her.
And when she is employed as a translator between the colonists and her people by the handsome leader, General Frederick Armitage, she slowly realizes that this is a God-given opportunity!
The more she interacts with Frederick, the more she shatters the lies and myths he has been taught about the 'savage' natives. In return, Frederick helps her see the kind side of soldiers.
But a devious game of power and deceitful forces, are preparing to spill blood, between the army and the natives, once again.
In this seemingly inevitable war, where bias and love collide, how can Chenoa and Fredrick ever be together?
Chenoa Great-Oak stood on the shoreline of Lake Salish and watched the smoke rise from the opposite banks. There was a terrible silence spreading across the millpond-still surface where not even the Cutthroat Trout dared to jump for fear of sending ripples they could not quell again. Her heart beat like the drums of war, echoing across to the horizon and pounding out a frantic rhythm. The mountains rose up in the distance, their white-peaks turning crimson as dawn came charging across the dusky sky, to chase away the night warriors who had spilled the sun’s blood the evening before.
She gathered her furs around her body, shivering in the bitter cold of the Montana Fall, willing the sun to rise faster, so that it might shed its heat upon the world below and take the edge off the harsh nip of the mountain breeze. It swept down from those striking sentinels, silhouetted in the burnished orange swell that crept upward. The wind was skimming across the lake, sending up a flurry of frothing swirls, before the lake fell still once again. Chenoa had been taught from birth to look for the Great Spirit’s signs amongst the world around her and the icy touch of the wind’s caress did not bode well.
Even though her beliefs had altered in recent years, she still sought to combine ancient tradition with the Christian beliefs she had turned to. To her, the Lord God and the Great Spirit were one and the same—an unseen entity who looked down upon His people and wept at the sight of their perpetual conflict, those tears coming in rain and frozen hail, to give and to punish. With the rain came the hope of new life and peace within the unfurling blooms. With the hail came the sting of the Lord’s despair, mirroring the bite of arrowheads in times of war.
She prayed to her maker now, closing her dark eyes tightly and clasping together her trembling hands. They shook, not only from the cold, but from the eerie silence that accompanied the distant rise of bluish smoke, just visible atop the whispering trees. She wished she could have heard the words those branches spoke, in their secretive rustle, but she lacked the ability. They spoke in a language she could not understand, but the timbre worried her.
Bring them home to us. Bring them home in safety. This, I beg of you.
The night had been much too long and full of the cries of men who battled so far from the warmth of their hearth, many of them fated to never return. Upon awakening, long after the sun had set, she had thought those cries to be part of a fading nightmare, but she had quickly realized that it was a painful reality. Warriors had left their camp at sunset with the missive of riding to the Sioux tribes further south to arrange a brief treaty of peace between their people and those who belonged in Chenoa’s small village. After all, there was a much larger enemy afoot and all would fall if they could not join forces.
The first terrifying scream in the dead of night had sent a troubling message. She had grown used to the sounds of conflict and knew the war cries of warriors. As soon as more shouts had begun to drift over from the distant shore, peppered with the crack of gunfire, Chenoa had known something was amiss, though it was much too dangerous to send more scouts to investigate. The village simply could not spare the men. Even now, most of the village still lay in a sleeping oblivion, unaware of the dangers that shivered across from the opposite bank.
As dearly as she loved the people who had become her family, Chenoa knew they existed in a state of naivety, thinking themselves beyond the reach of the two sides who would seek to punish them—the tribes from which they had been outcast and the advancing colonizers. Tucked away by the lakeside, hidden from sight by a natural horseshoe of rocky outcrop, her village blended into the surroundings like a skilled hunter slipping into the undergrowth and disappearing from sight. If the enemy did not know where to look, they would never have known it was there for a stone shelf gathered the smoke from the small, flickering fires that kept the villagers warm through the cold Montana nights. It was a world unto itself, but that was a perilous position to be in, teetering on the precipice of a fragile peace. The colonizers sought to conquer all and the tribes did not care for those who did not toe the line of tradition.
Every person within her tribe had been exiled for one reason or another, be it treason, betrayal, disagreement, or religion, prompting an unexpected blending of the tribes to form their own. Ktunaxa, Sioux, Kalispel, Cheyenne, and Arapaho had come together in this one, strange village with nowhere else to go. There were even two people who had formerly been of the Miwok tribe, traveling so very far in the pursuit of safety, though it had become clear over the years that there was no true sanctuary to be found in any part of their homeland.
Chenoa herself was formerly of the Ktunaxa tribe, though she and her mother had been forced out due to their religion and because of her father. He had not made it. His spirit wandered in another place now, awaiting them one day when their lives came to an end. She had never been given the opportunity to know him, but she kept him in her heart, feeling his presence in the changing of the seasons and in the stars that glittered when night fell. Her mother, Maovesa, did not speak of him. It wounded her too deeply to remember the pain of such a loss, though his heritage lived on in the paler mahogany of Chenoa’s skin, the curious hazel of her eyes, and the sharper contours of her face. A mix of indigenous and someone whose ancestors lay across a vast ocean, in a country she had never seen, where everyone had skin as white as freshly-gathered milk.
The thunder of hoofbeats tore Chenoa from her deep remembrance and solemn prayer, her dark hair whipping over her shoulder as she turned toward the village. Breaking into a sprint, she raced into the settlement and snatched up a spear, ready to fight anyone who might threaten her people. It felt cold and uncomfortable in her hands for she was a woman of peace, but twenty summers upon this earth had taught her how to defend herself, whenever she had to. Be it from errant bears who had stumbled through the bushes in search of food or from the stealthy enemy who might sneak upon her unawares.
The only way in and out of the village was through a narrow gap behind the rocky outcrop which had to be reached through a dense patch of woodland overhead. There were always boats ready on the shore, hidden in the shadow of the trees should Chenoa and the villagers need to escape, but other than that, that narrow gap was the only way to enter this peaceful realm.
You will not harm us. She gripped the pole of the spear and kept running, until she was face-to-face with the darkened entrance into the settlement. The horses appeared a moment later, wide-eyed and frothing at the mouth, crimson streaking their sides and blending in with the white paint that had been smeared across their faces and bodies to create an unsettling pink hue.
Immediately, she lowered her weapon, realizing that these were the warriors who had departed the previous evening. As they thundered through the gap, the weary fighters leaped down from the backs of the horses, stooping in the glow of the firelight to catch their breath. They were as wide-eyed as their mounts, each of them dappled in bruises and bearing the wounds of recent conflict.
“What happened?” Chenoa ran toward a familiar face as he jumped down from his horse and staggered on unsteady legs. Liwanu Fixico stood at six-feet tall with broad shoulders and a physique borne of years of toil. His long, dark hair was braided down his back with a strip of red fabric interwoven into the raven strands. It had come from a piece of dyed cloth that Chenoa had worn around her upper arm upon reaching womanhood and now, he wore it in his hair as a sign of their betrothal. Here in the Cutthroat Tribe, named after the trout that swam in the lake, they had formed their own traditions to bind the different tribes together in one way of life.
“Chenoa.” Liwanu reached out and grasped her hands. His palms were moist with sweat. His chestnut eyes came to rest on her, a small, relieved smile turning up the corners of his lips. “I thought only of you as I rode.”
“Where are the others?” Chenoa glanced at the returning group and noticed that the numbers had dwindled considerably. Fifteen men had left, but only eight had come back.
He shook his head. “We met with a band of Sioux who were riding north to speak with the Kalispel, the Ktunaxa, and the Cheyenne. We sat down to break bread, but we were ambushed by the white devil and their guns on the opposite side of the lake. We fought until we could do no more and they retreated with their numbers thinned, but we lost a great deal of mighty warriors in the act.”
“Who?” Chenoa gripped Liwanu’s hands tighter.
“Akecheta, Chesmu, Hevataneo, Istaqa, Jacy, Kohana, and Masou are all gone. They fought bravely, but they fell,” he replied, panting for breath. A sheen of perspiration glistened on his chest mingling with the blood that trickled across his skin, pooling from a deep gash that sliced across the indents of his right-hand ribs.
“Come, we must see to this wound,” Chenoa urged. She turned to see the rest of the village awakening abruptly, all of them running toward the injured warriors to see if their loved ones were amongst the returned. The first wails erupted into the lightening sky as those whose brothers and husbands and fathers had been lost in the fight were struck by the harsh hand of realization. They would never see their men again, not until the Great Spirit or the Lord or whomever they served reunited them.
Chenoa grasped Liwanu’s hand as those wails gathered in volume like wolves howling at the sad moon, shivering up her spine and prompting tears to brim in her own eyes. There was no sound like it on this earth. All of that raw pain and grief and loss ricocheting outward in one terrible cry. It was bestial and primordial, speaking of ties now severed.
Is that where I would be, if Liwanu had fallen? Would my cries be filling the air with such pain? She glanced at him shyly as she pulled him through the village to the hut she shared with her mother. They did not move around as other tribes did and had taken to building more permanent structures, so as to camouflage them more easily within the surrounding flora and fauna. All of the roofs were thatched with fronds and layered with fresh branches, providing that necessary concealment that kept them all safe.
Upon hearing of her betrothal to Liwanu, who had proven to be an able, strong, intelligent warrior amongst her people, he had been joyful beyond all reason, but she had not been able to rally the same enthusiasm. He had been her friend since they were children, both of them brought here by mothers who had no husbands to protect them, and she cared for him with the fondness of a sibling. But love? She had tried her very best to feel romantic affection for Liwanu, but she could not muster such an emotion. Her mother assured her that it would grow with time, but she was not so certain. After all, her mother had given everything for love—her home, her tribe, her people, their respect, and in the end, the very man who had stolen her heart. He had been executed while her mother had been driven out, still swollen with Chenoa in her belly.
Perhaps that is why she wishes me to wed Liwanu. He was well thought-of and being bound to him would cause no friction amongst the village. They had no qualms with the Christian beliefs that Chenoa and her mother followed as there were several others who held the same beliefs, but Liwanu was a secure, safe prospect. There was no threat of execution or exile by wedding him which undoubtedly served to ease Maovesa’s mind. One day, he may even become the leader of the tribe, which meant that Chenoa would lead by his side. And yet… she could never quite escape the notion that something was missing between them. Something important. Something valuable. A gift that God granted, that stirred hearts and tied souls together, beyond everything that life threw at them. She wanted that. She wanted the gift that her mother had received, however briefly, but it was no longer in her hands. Breaking the betrothal would have caused nothing but trouble and Chenoa refused to bring more grief upon her mother’s shoulders.
That is not to say that she would not have wept if Liwanu had fallen. She would have done, most fiercely. Even if she did not love him the way he loved her and she did not see that in their future together, she still cared for him from within the depths of her heart. He was still her dear friend and the loss of him would have been unbearable to her.
“I am glad to see you safe,” she said when they were far from the throng by the entrance to the village. “I stood upon the shoreline, watching the smoke rising and I feared the worst. I heard the cries of your battle. I prayed it was not you, but I knew in my soul that it was our men who fought for their lives. I have not slept while waiting for you to come back.”
Liwanu smiled, his chestnut eyes warm. “You would have wept for me?”
There were many young women in the village who would have given everything to be betrothed to a warrior such as Liwanu, given the exotic nature of his Miwok heritage and his kind, stoic nature, but Chenoa was not one of them. She wished he might have chosen another, but he had chosen her, confessing his love and admiration when she had reached her seventeenth summer. At least, to Chenoa’s constant relief, her mother had insisted they wait until her twenty-first summer before marrying, otherwise she did not know what she might have done. She might have been forced to flee the village, by herself, and beg refuge in another tribe or live alone in the wilderness. For, even a few years ago, she had been far more headstrong than she was now. Over time, she had come to accept the fact that she would marry Liwanu and had been softened by his kind manner and generous spirit, but that would not have been the case if she had been coerced into it upon her seventeenth summer.
“Does this mean that your feelings have begun to change?” Liwanu sat down on a log outside the hut.
Chenoa kneeled in front of him, taking cloths from the pile by the door. She tore them into strips and set about cleaning the wound, dipping the coarse fabric into the pot of water that hung over the dying fire. She did not immediately answer as she swept the dampened cloth across the injury, removing all of the dirt and sweat that marred his smooth, mahogany skin. All of the warpaint came away too, leaving nothing but the pure contours of his bare chest as God intended. Leaving him without an answer, she crept into the house where her mother lay sleeping still and took two jars down from the nearside table.
“You know I care for you,” she replied, sinking back down and opening the two crude jars forged from hardened mud they dragged up from the lakebed.
“As a wife to a husband?”
She smiled sadly. “I was terrified that you might die tonight. I prayed for your safe return until the sun started to rise. Let that be enough for now.”
“Very well,” he said quietly. “I’ll take hope in that.”
I wish you would not. “This may sting,” she warned as she scooped a small amount of pungent paste from the first jar.
“No more than your refusal to admit that you love me.” He chuckled playfully, his smile turning to a grimace as she applied the herbal poultice to the open wound.
“I told you it would sting.” She could not help but laugh as she applied a layer of honey, letting its healing properties get to work before binding dry strips of cloth across the injury.
“It does,” he replied, his tone weighted with meaning.
Looking up into his eyes, she lifted her hand slowly to his face. He stiffened in surprise, arching a confused eyebrow as she continued to gaze at him. He really was very handsome, his face striking a balance between soft and strong. But there was more to love than the way someone looked and no matter how hard she tried to force her heart to feel something more potent, she fell short.
Maybe in this world of war and bitter enmity, there was no place for love. Maybe it was not that she did not love him, but that she did not have it in her to love any man. Had they been brought together in a different time, she might have felt more for him. And yet, she could not rid herself of the idea that it was futile. Why fall in love if that love was going to get taken away? It had happened to her father. It had happened to those wailing widows and daughters and mothers who’d just found out they’d lost a treasured piece of themselves. Love was God’s gift, but it could also be a curse. And Chenoa did not want to bear the weight of such a torment if it could be avoided altogether. It was hard enough to cling to the unyielding love she felt for her mother knowing it could be stolen away at any moment.
I was born in grief. My father died because I lived. I am sorry, Liwanu… I do not know how to love you without losing you too.
General Frederick Armitage watched in horror as the gates of the fort opened and the war-torn filtered in, walking with the heavy footsteps of those who had recently experienced a brush with their own mortality. He threw on his military jacket and hurried out of his chambers, running along the inner battlements and down the stairs to greet the weary soldiers. As he got nearer, he realized they were in a far direr state than he had first anticipated. Their uniforms were torn and bloodied, their faces were covered in dirt and sweat and blood, and their eyes were hollow and empty as they looked to their General, offering feeble salutes as they came to a halt.
“Close the gates!” Frederick shouted, the sentries jumping to it and closing the gates behind the last of the soldiers. He ran to the head of the line, seeking out the face of his friend and right-hand man, Colonel John Hart. The fellow looked worn out. His fair hair was plastered across his grimy face, though a hint of mischief flickered in his blue eyes as Frederick approached.
“I’m not dead yet,” he said with a laugh. “Although, the Indians gave it their best shot.”
“What happened to you? You were supposed to be scouting the territory not getting into fights.” Frederick ran a hand through his own, freshly-cleaned, raven-black hair. He almost felt guilty that he’d been bathing while his men had been out, contending with the relentless natives. They were a constant thorn in Frederick’s side, though he reasoned he would be out of a job if they actually managed to resolve this ongoing war over the land of hope and glory.
“We were ambushed by those wretches,” John replied sourly. “We’d made camp and settled down for the night when they came out of nowhere. There must have been thirty of the beasts all on horseback. We barely escaped with our lives.” He glanced back at the line of men. “As you can see, some of us didn’t.”
Frederick bit his lip in frustration. “How many?”
“How many did we kill or how many did we lose?”
“We lost ten of our twenty men and they must have lost half of theirs.”
Frederick shook his head. “This isn’t good. This isn’t good at all. Where did this happen?”
“On the eastern shore of Lake Flathead.”
“Ah… then it could have been much worse. At least it did not happen too close to the fort. I was about to double the guard.”
John laughed wearily. “You probably should just to be safe.”
“I was going to anyway.” Frederick clapped his friend on the back. “You should go to the medical tent and get patched up. I’ll need you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to discuss our next course of action. Although, you should probably stay inside the fort for a few days. I can send someone else with the scouting groups.”
He would never have said so out loud, but he always worried when he sent his friend out into the wilderness, always fearing that John would never come back. He’d lost many friends that way and it never got any easier to swallow, no matter how he hardened himself to the idea. It had made him cold in recent years, but that was the only way for a general to be—soldiers needed leadership not mollycoddling.
He’d had to fight for their respect in the first place, being the youngest general in the American military at twenty-five, and he wasn’t about to show weakness in front of them. Weakness would only make them doubt him, but he knew he could trust John with a sliver of vulnerability. He was just about the only friend that Frederick still had.
John nodded. “I’ll do that, but I’d like to take another scouting group out in a couple of days to see if I can find the people who did this.”
“Of course. This act cannot go unpunished and I will not allow it to.” Frederick smiled. “But first, the medical tent. No protests. You’re cut up and I’d rather you didn’t get blood all over my office when I speak to you again.”
“Right you are, General.” John tipped his cap and moved on with the weary soldiers traipsing after him. Some men had barely a scratch on them while others were dead-men walking being held up by their fellow soldiers as they staggered along. It didn’t look too hopeful for a couple of them and the sight made Frederick’s heart burn with rage.
How dare they ambush my men! How dare they lay a hand on good soldiers! He cared very little for the plight of the natives. Instead, he was of the firm belief that a people should learn when they had been conquered. It had been almost a hundred years since his family had called themselves British, but that colonial mentality remained in the minds of all those who had originated there. There was a reason there had been a British Empire and Frederick wouldn’t balk from the pesky skirmishes of the natives who threatened the peace, just as his ancestors had never run from a challenge.
Furious, he stalked back up to his chambers and sat down at his desk, kicking off his boots and setting them down on the scratched surface. Papers lay scattered everywhere, detailing locations where they might make their next move. He reached forward and sifted through them until he found the one he was looking for. It was a map of Lake Flathead which the natives called Lake Salish. Even in the naming of things, they were stubborn as mules. Frederick could not even remember why it had been named Lake Flathead, but he had a vague recollection of it being to do with some crude tradition inflicted by the Salish tribes upon their young, making their heads flat. He didn’t know if there was any grounding in that, but he could never resist an opportunity to mar the natives in any way possible. As far as he was concerned, the more savage they appeared to the new America and its fine people the better.
You will bow to us in the end. It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, it may not be a year from now, but it will happen. You think yourselves the superior horsemen, but you will be the ones who are broken. He hated the savages with every vein in his body. Every time he had to send another body home to their mothers or write a letter to explain why a son would never come home again, it only fueled the fire of his loathing. He’d spent years cultivating this hate and he wasn’t about to put that to waste.
As morning turned into afternoon, Frederick emerged from his chambers with a determined grimace upon his brow. He had spent the interim hours scouring the maps of Lake Flathead trying to pinpoint locations where he might find the devils who’d attacked his scouting party. He realized he was being driven on pure impulse, but he could not help it. He needed to find these savages before they could do more harm. If they could set upon a peaceful camp then they could just as easily set upon a fort, seeking out its vulnerabilities. He wouldn’t allow that fate to befall Fort Billings.
“You!” He jabbed a finger at a dawdling group of soldiers. “Round up ten of my best men and meet me with horses at the gates in ten minutes.”
“Us?” The soldiers looked horrified.
“Did I stammer?” Frederick shot back. “Ten minutes. Go!”
The soldiers took off at a frantic pace, hurtling across the open expanse of the fort to where the stables were kept. As for his own mount, Frederick always kept Firebrand in a private facility further from the gates. He had a soft spot for the beast and he didn’t like the idea of it being the first one slaughtered if those native devils managed to get through the fortifications. Fixing his gloves and shifting the straps of his sword and rifle, he strode to the stone outhouse on the far side of the fort where the stable-hand lounged by the door, smoking casually on a pipe.
“Do you think you have time for such leisurely exploits?” Frederick snapped, making the young man jump.
He gave an awkward bow. “No, sir.”
“I need Firebrand saddling immediately. Don’t make me wait.”
“Yes, sir.” The stable-hand disappeared inside the outhouse where Frederick could hear the comforting sound of his horse snorting impatiently. At least we are both likeminded in our impatience. The thought made him smile.
“General?” A voice made Frederick turn. His eyebrows raised in surprise as John approached with a bandage wrapped around his forehead. A few flecks of crimson were seeping through the crisp white.
“You look better than you did earlier,” Frederick remarked as he leaned against the outhouse.
John chuckled. “I feel like death and my head is banging out a rather unpleasant beat against my temples.” He paused. “What about you? You don’t seem yourself. Are you feverish?”
“No, I am merely inspired,” he replied.
Frederick sighed. “Seeing the men return and speaking with you—I cannot allow these savages to believe they have managed to get away with ambushing good men. If I were to turn a blind eye, what sort of message would that be sending? No, I must act. And that is precisely what I am doing.”
“Now?” John gasped.
“Then I am certainly going with you,” John urged. “I’m not going to let you have all the excitement.”
Frederick shook his head. “You are injured. It wouldn’t be right of you to join me.”
“I was being dramatic before,” John replied. “I am quite well as you can see. I am coming with you whether you like it or not.”
“You are aware that I can order you not to, yes?”
John laughed. “I am, but you will need a guide if you are seeking out these wretches. I can show you the spot where we were ambushed and we can proceed from there. I’d never be so bold as to say you need me, but… well, you need me.”
“Sometimes, I wonder if you take advantage of our friendship.” Frederick smiled. “If you were anyone else, I would have had you sent to the brig for court martial for speaking to me in such a way.”
“Ah, yes, but I’m not anyone else. And without me, you wouldn’t have a single friend,” John teased. “Who would you spend your evenings imbibing with if you didn’t have me?”
“You make an excellent point.” Frederick tapped his chin in thought. He did not like the idea of bringing his friend along on this revenge mission in case it went awry, but he could not deny the truth in what John said. He needed someone to show him the location of the ambush and John was one of the finest soldiers under his leadership. If he did not agree to let John join him, he was certain the men would start to think there was some favoritism occurring. Paranoia gripped his mind and not for the first time. Being in such a position at such a young age, paranoia was never far away, making him second guess himself at every turn in case it resulted in a coup.
“So, am I being ordered to the brig or am I coming with you?” John prompted, making Frederick realize he had not spoken for several minutes.
He sighed. “I suppose you must. Go and saddle your horse and meet the scouting party by the gates in ten minutes.”
“Aye, aye, captain.” John flashed him a mischievous grin and hurried away, kicking up a storm of dust as he disappeared towards the stables.Lord, protect him. Protect us all. He did not speak to God often for he did not know if he was being listened to, but this caused for a smattering of faith. Indeed, over the years, his bond with God had ebbed like the rushing tides. He had watched too many good men die to believe that someone benevolent was watching over them, though that painful thought had left a hole in his chest where his faith had been. He longed to be able to fill it again and be granted a sign, but he had long since stopped seeking it out. And yet, in that moment, he could not help but send up a fleeting prayer… just in case.
Thank you for reading the first 2 Chapters of my Upcoming Novel "Chenoa's Tale to Freedom"!
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