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                              . . . . Herb Metoyer . . . .

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Small Fires in the Sun

 

By

Herbert R. Metoyer, Jr.

EXCERPTS

 

Table of Contents   /   Chapter One   /   Epilogue

 

 

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Intro Section

     About Author

     About The Natchez

 

Part I — Crossroads

     Chapters 1 thru 8

Part II — Chilling Winds of War

     Chapters 9 thru 15

Part III — The Silver Medallion

     Chapters 16 thru 23

Part IV — Bienville’s Revenge

     Chapters 24 thru 28

Epilogue

References

What Some Folks Say

 

_____________

 

Chapter — One

 

May 1724

 

“Land ahead! Land, ahead to port!” Mukta heard the crow nester yell above the noise of the gentle surf. “Louisianne!” 

Somewhat expectantly, Mukta raised his large, muscular-gone-to-flab body from the short stool upon which he sat and slowly ambled toward the rough plank stairway that led from the lower deck  of the Marianne, a hastily converted frigate. A few moments later, he emerged shielding his eyes from the brightness of the morning sun with his thick arms.

A beautiful day, he said to himself. Almost too beautiful. But then, landfall was always a beautiful sight, no matter what the conditions. He hated the sea and always would, even if he was forced to sail it for the rest of his life. But hopefully, his ordeal would end soon. And when that time came, he would jump ship, leave the bitch, Marianne, and return to his homeland deep in the interior of Africa.

Suddenly, he sensed something foreboding — something that sent an ominous chill coursing through his body and causing him to shudder despite the warmth of the morning sun. He lifted his nose and sniffed audibly. What remained afterward was a fleeting odor that reminded him of burning hair and rotting snake eggs. Not good, he said to himself. Diablo, is it your presence I smell? If so, be gone. I’ll have no business with you this day.

Almost reverently, he reached down and touched the small leather pouch that he wore tied to the waistband of his filthy, canvas loincloth. Within it was his life — his past, present, and future; a few small gold trinkets and pieces of silver that he had managed to scavenge over the past five years. Droppings left behind by the crew. Someday, when the sack was full, he would jump the Marianne and return to his village a wealthy man. There, he would settle down, resume his life, take several wives, and father a hundred children. This was his dream, the only thing that gave purpose to his otherwise worthless existence.

But before he jumped ship, there were three dogs of Hades that he had marked to die. Three — he had sworn to kill with his bare hands. Mendoza, the “Portuguese,” would be first. Then, Cecil, their homosexual cook, followed by the grand Capitaine John Thomas Fortierre. The Portuguese would die because he was the one who had gotten him drunk and shanghaied him into slavery five years ago. Cecil would die because the scurvy, little, rotten-tooth weasel would not give him his daily rations except in exchange for sexual favors. The Captain would die just because he happened to be Captain of the unholy Marianne.

With some remorse, he recalled the terror of waking from a drunken stupor to find himself shackled and chained in darkness, deep within the bowels of the Marianne. He was frightened and sick, and almost driven mad from the incessant slapping of the sea against the ship’s hull. He could still hear the Portuguese and several others laughing at him in the shadows.

“Aye, matey, look what I catched me-self with a bottle of rum. What would have cost the Captain ten stout men and a few broken skulls, I catched with a small flask of rotgut.”

“And right you are. An ape that size ought to bring a better than fair price on any block.”

He had strained on his shackles, but it was useless. The irons were stout and strong. Finally, he gave up, his spirit crushed. In the shadows of the swinging lamps, several of the slaves began to discuss mutiny. A few days later, their plans were finalized, and the mutiny was set to take place the next time they were taken up on deck to exercise.

In the beginning, thoughts of freedom made his blood race. But soon after, the initial elation faded away. And the thought of a mutiny by slaves, who had no knowledge of the sea, or the instruments necessary to navigate its vast domain, frightened him even more than did his uncertain future as a slave. So, out of concern for his own safety, he warned the Captain, believing that the Captain would only alert the slaves that he was aware of their intent and thereby discourage any further attempts.

Nothing, however, could have prepared him for the slaughter that took place two days later. The Captain had not warned the slaves. Instead, he had prepared and lay in wait until the slaves made their move. Then, he and his officers swooped down, cutlasses swinging, and pistols firing aimlessly into the innocent and guilty alike. Within seconds, it was over.

Once the mutiny was quelled, the Captain brought everyone on deck and forced him, Mukta, against his will, and in view of all, to identify everyone who had participated. Then, he, along with the rest of the slaves, watched while bodies were whipped with cats, and hands, breasts, and penises were hacked off. And when that was finished, the still screaming souls were chained together and tossed from the sides of the ship into the shark-infested, blue-waters of Hell.

As compensation for his role in saving the Captain and his crew, he was made Master of the Slaves. His reward, however, was not without a price. The burden of guilt weighed heavily on his mind for a long time. Many times in the night, when the wind was just right, and usually at the third glass of the dog’s watch, he was still plagued by the cries of those he had doomed. And each time he lay his huge body down to rest, he was forced again to watch in horror, the visions of black, faceless bodies struggling to stay afloat in a fast reddening sea.

As time passed, however, so did much of his guilt, but not all. Most of it, he supposed, would remain with him for the rest of his life. Normally, he was not a violent man. He was, however, a survivor, doing what he had to do, when he had to do it, in order to persist. At one stage in his life, he was a humble and gentle herder of cows, trying to survive on the vast, arid savannas of Africa. Content, he was, without malice toward neither man, beast, or God ¾ not even when the beasts killed and plundered his herd, or when the Gods held back the blessed life-sustaining rains.

The Marianne and her crew, however, soon altered that phase of his life. He was something else now. Something more in the eyes of some, something less in the eyes of others. Yet, the fact that he was only one small step removed from the fate of those subservient to him did not, in any way, diminish the zeal with which he pursued his duties. Any compassion he might have had for his unfortunate charges had long ago been secreted away in a place inaccessible to him and mortal man.

But, because of his heavy hand, the Marianne was never again threatened with mutiny, not once in all the five years he had served as her Slave Master. Usually, by the time they had completed a crossing, even the noblest of warriors had been reduced to something less than a sniveling pup.

So, it was with pride that he went about his task deep in the bowels of the superannuated vessel. The Captain ruled topside, but below decks ¾ he, Mukta, was supreme.

 

“Channel ahead! Fifteen degrees right, then straight as a boar’s prick,” the crow nester yelled to the helmsman.

Mukta raised his head and looked up at the crow’s nest, resting high, near the top of the foremast.

“All hands on deck,” shouted the boatswain. And suddenly, the deck was filled with hurried activity as the swarthy, ragged, unkempt seamen hauled in the yards of mainsail, coiled the rigging, and stowed the spit-kids tightly beneath the spar deck. Only the small topsails and an aft spanker were left aloft to propel the vessel up the channel to the mouth of the Mississippi.

Mukta glanced out over the starboard side and noticed the deep emerald and blue color of the sea slowly changing into a soft muddy brown, a sure sign that they had entered the correct channel that would lead them up the illusive and mysterious river.

This would be his second trip into the French port of New Orleans. Most of the time, they sold their slave cargo in Cuba, or Haiti, and sometimes along the Eastern seaboard. Yet, of all the places he had visited, he found the Louisiana coast the most intriguing ¾ especially the swamps and marsh lands, crowded with thick growths of willows, mimosas, tupelo gums, ungainly pines, and marsh elder. Cattails, great cane breaks, and palmetto thickets grew rampant along the water’s edge. And interspersed within, were giant cypress trees with feathery, green foliage and cone-shaped trunks that rested on huge knobby roots that reminded him of someone’s knees. Hanging from their branches were long masses of gray moss-like hair that everyone called “Capuchin’s beard”. He had no idea who Capuchin was, but the sound of the name seemed more than fitting.

 

The wind caused the topsails to snap, shattering the stillness, and rousing flights of pelicans, herons, swans, and egrets from their nests and feeding grounds in the nearby marshes. Mukta marveled at the spectacular sight, thousands of water fowl of every species, stretching their long necks and filling the hazel-blue sky. When they were gone, he stretched his massive arms and scanned the shoreline, hoping to spot an alligator or some other type of reptile sunning or swimming lazily among the lilies and irises.

Suddenly, the hair on his neck stood like the hackles of a dog. He turned quickly to see why, and found the cold, gray eyes of Captain Fortierre staring directly at him.

“How many dead?” the Captain asked solemnly.

“Four,” Mukta replied.

“Damn. One would think my job was to feed the sharks, rather than make a livelihood. Well, step lively and get the bastards over the side. We’ll be in port soon.”

Oui,” Mukta grunted as he turned and lumbered back down into the hold. He had almost forgotten to perform his most important daily chore, that of throwing the bodies of those who had died during the night over the side.

At the bottom of the stairway, he closed his eyes tightly to adjust them to the darkness. Then, he crossed to a short ladder and crawled up into the t’ween deck. He stopped before a young mother and attempted to take the dead body of a small boy from her arms. The woman resisted, cursing, and calling him vile names. Then, she made the mistake of spitting directly into his face. Without another thought, Mukta drew back his massive arm and swatted her heavily across the mouth. She released the child quickly, and just as quickly, buried her bloody face in her shaking hands. Mukta then picked up the cold, stiff, little body and carried it topside leaving its mother to cry softly in the darkness.

Once topside, he avoided looking at the child’s face. In fact, he never looked any of the dead in the face. Not that he was afraid or felt any pity for them. It was just a matter of doing his job, and he could do that very well without having to look into their glassy eyes, or their infected, blotched, scaly, black faces. Handling their stinking, maggot-ridden bodies was enough ¾  wasn’t it?

He was just about to pitch the body over the side, when a wheel pin struck him suddenly, and hard, across the upper muscles of his left arm. He yelped, dropped the body to the deck, and spun around into a defensive posture. He cowered immediately, however, once he saw it was the Portuguese.

“Stupid swine. The Captain would carve your black rump if he knew you were throwing his good irons to the fish,” the Portuguese said, pointing to the single, rusty shackle still fixed to the child’s ankle.

Mukta looked down, grunted in acknowledgement, then stooped to remove it, his eyes watchful, should the Portuguese decide to strike him again. The Portuguese snarled, then sauntered off. After he was out of range, Mukta picked up the dead body and heaved it angrily over the side. Yes, Portuguese, you will be the first to die. Then, I will drain my bladder down your slimy throat, he promised himself as he returned to the hold of the gracious Marianne.

As Mukta went about his tasks, he was ever mindful of evil eyes staring at him in the darkness from every quarter, watching his every move. Stupid bunch of mongrels. It wasn’t his fault that they were in chains. And it wasn’t his fault that he was the one tasked with the responsibility of beating some sense and respect into their black carcasses. Fate had done that, not him. Didn’t they realize that he was trapped just as they were? That he was confined to the hold of a stinking ship when his heart yearned for home and Niema, the girl he was supposed to marry? No, he supposed not. Well, it did not matter. It still would not change one thing. As the wind blows, so do the sands of the desert. Besides, they deserved no better, he rationalized. And you, you deserve less than that, he said with his eyes as he glanced over at a young Mali boy who called himself Kiokera. What fool in his right mind would beg aboard a slaving vessel for a look-see. Well, you got your look-see all right — a look-see at Hell.

Mukta did not like the boy. In fact, for reasons he could not adequately explain, he hated the boy almost as much as he did the Portuguese. Maybe, it was because of the embarrassment he had sustained on the day the boy was first lured aboard ¾ the way the youth had kicked him in the groin. He could still hear the crew laughing now. Then too, maybe, it was the boy’s eyes, the way they slanted like a snake’s. Evil, want-to-do-me-harm eyes. Evil eyes, waiting in the dark. For what? For me to fall down the steps and break my damn neck? Mukta chuckled to himself at the thought.

When he had finished throwing the last body over the side, he returned to his stool and sat down weightily to rest his sweating body. A large, thick-furred rodent caught his eye. He watched unconcerned as it crawled slowly in and around the huge hand-hewn timbers that formed the ribs of the bloated vessel.

When it was out of sight, his attention shifted slowly to a young girl lying, unchained, on her side near the forward bulkhead. Naked from the waist up, her dark reddish skin glowed amber in the sunlight that filtered from above through the cracks in the floor of the deck. Quietly, a subtle warmth settled in his groin and slowly spread throughout his body. With deft hands, he reached down and massaged himself as he surveyed her well-proportioned body, her full breasts standing like they had been carved from ebony, the outline of her ample buttocks, tightly wrapped and straining against the small piece of broadcloth that barely covered her nakedness.

Silently, he wished that she could have been his own, or someone like her. This one, however, would never do for a mate. This one had been ruined. Barely a week out to sea, the Captain ordered him to bring the frightened girl up to the quarterdeck where he ravaged her. To make matters worse, the Captain had forced him to stand and watch, knowing that his balls were aching and burning like fire for want of a woman.

After that, it seemed as if every other day, he was directed to bring her topside where other officers and privileged crew members took their pleasure. It happened so often, that he stopped bothering to replace her chains. She wasn’t the only one forced to submit. They did it to some of the others, too. The younger, the better. She, however, quickly became their favorite, primarily because the little bitch had started to enjoy her excursions. And before long, she was nothing but a wicked, little conniving whore, using her woman’s wit indiscriminately to maintain her favor among the slimy bunch of lice-ridden cutthroats. This had both surprised and angered him ¾ to see her smiling and grinning up in their faces and switching her tail around like some bitch-dog in heat. Then, what really angered him further was the fact that the girl had rejected his advances, forgetting that he was the one, in the beginning, who had nursed her bruises and tried to make her comfortable after her initial ordeal. Well, he took care of that. Had to knock her around a little to get her attention. But once that was accomplished, from then on, it was nothing but milk and honey. Milk and honey.

Normally, he was not allowed to enjoy liberties with the slave women in his care. That right was reserved only for the Captain and a chosen few. But occasionally, when the need was severe enough, he accepted the risk and stole a few moments of pleasure. Most of the time, however, he was forced to obtain relief through the services of Cecil, their homosexual cook. He detested this liaison with a passion. But had he refused, Cecil would have withheld his daily rations of salt pork and biscuits. Just thinking about the act made him sick to his stomach. And there were many times, when he was laboring over the cook’s, red-like-a-monkey’s backside, that he had to restrain himself from snapping the filthy, little weasel’s neck ¾  like a chicken’s.

The throbbing urgency of the turgid growth in his loins again demanded his attention. Casually, he glanced up the stairs. The moment was opportune. All hands were occupied on deck. And if he hurried, he could take his pleasure now, without undue risk.

He stood up, glanced quickly up the stairway again, then made his way over the bodies to where the girl lay. She looked up at him apprehensively, her arm half raised as if she expected him to strike her. Then, her eyes dropped to the pulsing protrusion beneath his loincloth, and he could see that she knew what he wanted. Without prompting, she rolled onto her back submissively and raised her knees. Mukta smiled in satisfaction as he stroked his hugeness into a hard mass.

Well, my cunning, little she-devil, tomorrow it will be some other bewitched fool who will be praying at your dark, sacred altar. Then, he lowered his huge body awkwardly between her dark thighs and rubbed the head of his soul across her moist portal.  Suddenly, he plunged deeply. She groaned in pain, but did not attempt to escape. Instead, she gritted her teeth, forced herself to relax and following thereafter, was the slapping sound of flesh upon flesh — a sound not unlike the snap of the wind against a high-flying canvas sail. Milk and honey. Nothing but, milk and honey...................continued

 (End of Chapter One Excerpt)

_______

 

 

E p i l o g —

 

~   ~   ~

 

That evening following the funeral,  and while Emanuelle’s children played a game of sticks on the floor of the sitting room, François sat outside on the gallery steps gazing out at the setting sun, watching intensely as it struggled to remain aloft. Louis, his master’s son, had left earlier to go carousing in town with other boys his own age. Behind him, his mistress sat in a weathered, split cane chair, absentmindedly fingering the ends of the light shawl that hung loosely about her shoulders. Beside her, his wife, Marie, stood cooling their mistress with a small, palmetto frond fan. They, too, were watching reverently, the last rites of day....

 

“M’selle?”

“Yes, François.”

“How many fires do you think there are in the sun — one, or many?”

“Many, I suppose.”

“I agree. I, too, think there are many — all small. I think that there are so many, that from a distance they only appear as one. Has anyone ever tried to follow the sun — to see where it goes and what happens once it arrives at its destination?”

“I’m sure there are those who have tried, but the sun is fleet of foot and nothing living, not even the fastest horse, can match its stride.”

“An eagle could do it, if he was smart. If I were an eagle, I would station myself on the evening side of the world. There, I would wait. Then, when the sun arose the next morning, I would precede it with all haste so that I could be at the appointed place at the appointed time.”

“There are those who say the world is round, that the sun travels in an arc and never sleeps.”

“Who are those who say this?”

“Scholars and men of learning.”

“Maybe, these scholars should ask the Dogans. They would know for certain.”

“The Dogans?”

“Yes. An ancient tribe in Africa whose camp is near the river Niger. I have never seen these people myself, but the elders of my village say that these people can see what no man can see; that they know the stars, their names, and the paths they travel well. They also say that the Dogans worship a black star, a dead star that moves about a larger star once each sixty years; that they have celebrated this event for more than three thousand years with a festival called Sigui. Yes, I suspect that they would know.”

“The stars are beyond me. I am satisfied just to marvel at their beauty.”

“If the world is round, as these scholars suggest, maybe the Commandant is not dead. Maybe, he has just dropped from our view to arise again on the other side of the world. Maybe...”

“François...,” Marie said with an air of caution. “You’re disturbing m’selle.”

François glanced back, saw the last rays of the sun flicker in the moist eyes of his mistress, and was immediately sorry for having spoken his clumsy words. This had not been the intent of his conversation. He had only intended to entertain her, and maybe, lighten her burden. Now, he wished he had kept his mouth shut, stayed out of it, and let time cure her broken heart. The sun had vanished from both of their worlds, and no man living had the knowledge or the strength to draw it back into its place, and certainly not him. He could be of no further assistance here. It was time for him to prepare himself — like the eagle he spoke of. For if an eagle, or a man, could outwit the sun, then either could claim the greatest reward of all — the fulfillment of a dream.

With a sudden sense of urgency, François stood and approached his mistress.

“M’selle?” he said softly.

“Yes, François.” Emanuelle replied solemnly.

“Forgive me. I did not mean to disturb you with my foolish talk.”

Ne vous en faites pas (Do not worry). Your talk was not foolish. It was very endearing.”

“M’selle, there is nothing more I can do here. With your permission, I will be leaving. I must get back to my chores. Marie will stay to tend your needs.”

“Must you leave tonight?”

“Yes. My fields have gone unattended for too long, and there is much to be done.”

“I understand and agree. M’sieur Leblec, the overseer, is quite capable of overseeing my interest here. Marie, tell Zolare to pack a sack of food for François, and François — take my husband’s horse, Diablo. He will be of more service to you than to me. I will send Marie to join you in a few weeks — as soon as things are settled here.”

Merci, m’selle.”

 

While François went to the barn to saddle up Diablo, Marie instructed Zolare to pack him a sack of food. Then, she went directly to her cabin to gather François’ personal belonging.

 

“My, what a handsome pair of black stallions the two of you make,” Zolare said softly from the shadows as she entered the dimly lit barn with a small food sack.

“Damn, Zolare. You scared the Hell out of me.”

“Zolare chuckled as she sauntered towards Diablo’s stall and stopped in front of François. “That was not my intentions, chéri. There are things more desirable that I would like to do to you.”

“Zolare, be careful. I have no time for mischief.”

“I am not interested in mischief. I am on a mission with a purpose, and it concerns you.”

“What?”

“François, I want a child,” Zolare said with a serious tone as she closed in and took his hand in hers. “I want a child more than anything else in all this world.”

“As much as I would like to, I cannot assist you. Give Cecil an opportunity.”

“François, you know, as well as I, that Cecil is not capable. Despite all his bragging, he is an old man and not capable of fulfilling his manly duties. You are my only hope. I…”

“Sorry, I’m late,” Marie interrupted as she entered the barn with another sack containing François’ clothing.

François coughed, stepped back from Zolare, and hurried back to his tasks.

“I did not intend to startle you.” Marie added sarcastically. “I was delayed by the children.”

“Oh, Marie,” Zolare replied self-consciously, “I was just telling François that when you leave to rejoin him on the Isle, I would like to accompany you to see my husband. If m’selle allows me to do so, won’t that be wonderful — the four of us in the wilderness?”

“Yes, it would,” Marie replied as a matter of courtesy even though she felt a little ill at ease about what might have transpired in her absence. Then to her husband, she said sternly and somewhat curtly, “You go directly home and straight to bed without delay, and stay there. I will join you as soon as m’selle releases me.”

“I will be waiting anxiously, chéri.”

“And be watchful of the Natchez boy. Remember — he kills.”

“You worry too much. The boy is no threat to us. The Englishmen received exactly what they deserved.”

“Still, he is a savage, and one cannot be too cautious. You heed me, do as I say, and stand your guard.”

“I will do that, chéri,” François answered. Then, he kissed her, climbed aboard Diablo, and departed with a wave of farewell.

When he had gone, Marie turned to Zolare and said quite sternly, “Whatever you may have on your little feeble mind, forget it.”

Then, she left a speechless Zolare standing uncomfortably in the shadows of the barn as she walked briskly back toward the house.

________

 

As Marie retrieved her fan and resumed her post, Emanuelle released a long, audible sigh and flipped her shawl angrily at several unwelcome mosquitoes. In the distance, above the pines, several birds of an unknown variety circled the purple sky as if searching the night for a place to roost. A tiny jack rabbit wandered leisurely across her front yard, saw her, then darted quickly, deep into her flower bed near the roses. She followed it with her eyes, wondering how it, and the other vulnerable creatures of the world, managed to survive in the midst of so many predators like wolves and alligators, lawyers and judges, and powdered male scavengers who passed themselves off as governors.

Soon, Lieutenant Taillefert would come with his cadets and clerk to inventory and appraise what was left of her husband’s assets, and it irritated her to think of them pulling, plucking, and rummaging through her things with their filthy hands. If they would but ask, she could save them a considerable amount of time for she knew the count of every worthless item in her possession.

There were six chests of linen and clothes, twelve of her husband’s surtouts — some a little better than others, but all with beautiful gold and silver braids and tassels. Beneath the house there were forty-two sacks of last year’s pecans and four hundred and fifty pots of stinking bear oil waiting for shipment to New Orleans.

In her care, were sixteen adult slaves, twelve African and four Indian. And among them were seventeen little slave children, twelve African and five Indian — all darlings and especially dear to her heart.

On the land of Casa de Sombrilla, there were twenty-two arpents of corn. There were also fifteen arpents planted with beans, and eight with indigo. In the meadows, they had exactly one hundred and eleven horned beasts, twenty-seven fine Spanish horses, four wagons, two carts, and one carriage with a loose wheel.

She had ten slave cabins in various states of repair, a barn, a weaving house, a curing shed, a cookhouse with three iron cooking pots and a cauldron, and she had a modest home. Inside, she had twelve forks and spoons, twenty-four plates, a speckled blue Chinese vase, two silver goblets, some utensils, five mattresses, two pieces of printed calico, and a few jewels, some given to her by her grandmother, and a few that she had purchased for herself in New Orleans. And, if they insisted — she also had seven pairs of drawers to cover her naked ass.

It seemed like a large estate, but even if they sold everything she owned, she knew it would never satisfy her debts. She supposed most of it would go toward paying the nine thousand livres she still owed the Company of the Indies. If that wasn’t enough, she suspected they might even confiscate her home. They could. And what about Marie and François? She loved them dearly, and she knew that they loved her; that they would work their fingers to the bone in an attempt to save her and salvage their dreams of liberty; that they would do this in spite of the fact that time was clearly to their disadvantage.

With the estate in such disarray and tied to the courts, she doubted that they would ever realize their quest. But, they would try. Of that, she was never more certain. How she wished her husband had listened to her. They could have sold what they could, taken the money and ran — back to Mexico. Her beautiful, beautiful Mexico. Debts be damned.

Bienville — you old, fat-assed heifer... I salute you. You did your dirty work well.

 

“Marie?”

“Yes, m’selle.”

“Let us retire. I’m ready for bed.”

Without answering, Marie took her mistress’s arm gently and escorted her into the house. Once inside, Emanuelle paused above her daughter, Marie des Nieges, and baby Coincoin. Both lay fast asleep on the floor of her sitting room.

“They are adorable, aren’t they, Marie?”

Oui, m’selle. Yes, they are.”

 

— ~  ~  ~ —

 

A Cane River Saga