Excerpt from Seminole Song
With sound and brilliance and the need to live pushing him on, he strained against the sodden ropes. He felt the loops around his ankles give slightly, but although he rotated his feet in all directions, he couldn't free himself. After resting a moment, he did the same with his wrists. Ignoring the pain, he yanked and pulled, an animal driven half insane by helplessness. By defeat. He howled, the sound building and giving him strength until thunder abruptly cut it off. Osceola would understand; Osceola would howl with him.
Gaitor. He opened his mouth, but rage and something else filled him, making it impossible for him to think beyond freeing himself.
"Panther? You live?"
Until Croon tires of me. Although his eyes remained open, he couldn't make himself focus on the rain-soaked world around him. Instead his mind's eye raced through the woods until he spotted his spirit lolling on a tree branch. Even though its dark body was at rest, the long, powerful claws and sharp fangs served as proof of the creature's power. Panther, his spirit, was free. While he—
Someone was coming. His nerves screaming the message, he once again pulled his shoulders off the ground and stared up into the rain. Croon wouldn't come out in this downpour; he'd be within his warm, dry new house, maybe drinking the white man's crazy-making drink, maybe yanking up his wife's skirt or the skirt of one of his female slaves.
Through the thick, gray cloud of rain slipped a small figure half bent against the storm. The woman's clothes clung to her frame as if she'd been sewn into them. Her long, wet hair lay along her neck and over her shoulders like a black stream. In her hand she carried a knife.
"Quiet!" he ordered Gaitor. The woman stopped a few inches away, looked back over her shoulder at the house, then stared down at him. Water ran off her. For no more than two heartbeats he thought of nothing except her dark, dark eyes, saw nothing except the courage in them. Her flesh was nearly the same color as his, but she wasn't Seminole. A slave?
She crouched. Her hand holding the knife stabbed outward; he waited for the pain that would signal his end, but it didn't come. Instead, his legs suddenly straightened, causing his thigh and calf muscles to shriek in pain. His arms, although still caught behind him, no longer felt as if they were being torn from their sockets. He tried to roll over to his side so he could see what she was doing, but she placed a small, strong, wet hand on the back of his neck, holding him there with her silent message. Trusting as he'd never trusted in his life, he waited while she first cut through the leather around his wrists and then freed his ankles.
He sprang to his knees. She remained hunched beside him, her big, deep eyes warning him not to get any closer. "Go!" she said in English. She pointed her knife toward the wall of trees. "Go, now!"
"I can't. My friend—"
From his prison, Gaitor uttered a protest, but Panther paid him no mind. His body might now be free, but the woman still held him with the power in her eyes. "He will kill you." She indicated the great house. Her voice was deep for a woman's, quavering and yet determined. "And if he sees what I've done, he will kill me too."
"Panther!" Gaitor shouted. "The knife, I's been diggin'. This mud's makin' it easy. Just you gets outta here."
Already he could see that the space between earth and wood was greater than it had been earlier. Scrambling away from the woman, he stuck his hand through the enlarged hole. Gaitor grasped it.
"I don't want—"
"He'll spot ya fer sure! Run! I sees you back at the village."
Gaitor was right. He'd only jeopardize his honton, his friend, with his presence.
Willing his cramped muscles to hold him, he surged to his feet. His hand snaked out; he yanked the knife out of the woman's hand. She shrank away, eyes wide and frightened. Ignoring her, he sprinted toward the nearest tree. The palmetto seemed to reach out to embrace him, to cover him with darkness, and he breathed in the heady scent of freedom. Then, although the wilderness spirits called to him, he turned back toward the woman.
She hadn't moved. With the rain pelting down around her, she looked part of the earth. Still, her eyes were alive.
Don't ask, they said. Don't ask why I freed you.