Late Spring-Early Summer 1881-Natchez, Mississippi
I had gotten it from the peddler that had come around Mr. Benjamin’s house more than I would like. He was sellin lye, needle and thread and buttons and tallow. I was determined to get outta Mr. Benjamin’s house as fast as God would let me.
In the sermons that old man with hair white as cotton my Mama had to pick said, “Sometimes the Good Lord gives us all the tools we need for our freedom. Sometimes those tools come from the most unlikely sources.”
They sure do, Reverend Hunter. They sure do.
I walked around with that powder in my apron pocket for more than a week. I held in my pocket with this doll-like child asked me for something. When I had to hide from her father. When I went outside to hang wash. I kept it, I kept it. I don’t know if I was unsure or scared. I knew what would happen if I gave the girl who thought I was a Christmas toy this. I knew what would happen if I gave all of it to her father that watched me sleep from the door.
But the day, I ran from that house? I ain’t ever felt as free!
I don’t know how I decided I was going to give to either one. But I knew something had to happen when I woke to feel his hand on my rear end. I sat up, looking at him stock straight. If I had a pistol, he was far enough away from me that I knew I could hit it. And kill him. I had to leave. When he left the room, I felt my breath caught deep in my chest. I closed my eyes, feeling the tears come out my eyes. I covered my eyes and tried to sleep.
Mr. Benjamin took tea when he went to bed. He always wanted me to brang it to him. I knew that if I gave him enough
Summer 1881- Jackson, Mississippi
The wind had got sucked outta me.
I had been in this strange place with this too soft bed, with the Master of this house looking a little too long, and a little to hard at me. I looked at out window of the old slave shack I was in and thought about how all had happened, happened to me.
I had been at Mr. Benjamin’s house for a week. I had overheard Miss Victoria tell him that my usefulness with her and Victoria was over. “I don’t like how she and my girl get on! She listens to her more than me!” I was in the hallways of this big, ole house, playing with this girl with the big eyes and brown hair. She kept calling my name, and telling me her name was Rebecca, just like in the Bible. She was pulling at me, and telling me all about some doll her Daddy give her. “Tally, and we are gonna have so much a time Tally!”
I stood there in that window, and was just thinking. I had been at this place a week. Seven days and thought about how else I could get back to Jackson. I had a room in the house right next to Rebecca’s. But the first time that Mr. Benjamin come in there on me? I had to make sure everyone was hard sleep before I could rest good. He just stood at the door, just looking at me. He looked at me, closing that big heavy white door after him. Standing there in his night clothes, gaze so hard that thought he’d set me on fire. I thought I saw him looking at me, and I squeezed my eyes shut. I hoped he was a dream, and would go as quick as he come.
Tonight, this night I had to sneak out and think. I had to get back to Ira. I had to tell Orpah what I knew she knew. I had to leave before Mr. Benjamin really tried to come in on me, and take what was never gon be his. I looked down at my hand, looking at the red rag in it. I thought about what had come to me, and what I was about to do. I knew that if I took what was in my hand, I wouldnt have but a day or so ride to Natchez where Ira was. Or else they’d try to bury me while I was still breathin. But it was too far to walk, and too dark to try. If I didn’t take this pinch of oleander and foxglove, I might as well be dead for real.
Once that baby in that ole house get to bein, lookin, just like Ira, I knew Miss Victoria had just enough evil in her to kill Ira just like she did my Daddy. The only thing keepin Ira, Tabitha and Orpah from the Good Lord was time. And I ain’t know how much more of it we had. I sucked in a big breath of wind, and walked back to the house. If I was gon do this right, I needed a snake to catch a bigger snake! Mr. Benjamin was the brother of the woman that killed my Daddy. He was gon be just what I needed to get back to Natchez.
Summer 1881-Jackson, Mississippi
My Missus wanted me to go with her out of town. The baby was big enough that me being gone for a while, at least two days. I hated to leave Isabelle and Tabitha. And Even Ira. I was scared out my head. I was jumpy for weeks. Weeks!
I sat in this hot coach ‘cross from the woman that had caused my Daddy to hang lower than a tree limb. I thought about Sister Anne. I thought about my grandmother. I thought about the last piece of advice Sister Anne told me before I left her house almost three years ago.
“You got to be careful ’round dem folk, Tally. Stay low. Be low. And if something not of the Most High happ’m? Run like a demon gotcha, baby!”
Miss Victoria was sleeping. Eyes closed and hands all perfect in her lap. Orpah was left in charge while she was gone. I still didn’t know why this woman asked me to go with her. “For company.” she said. “Tabitha needs some time with her own Mama, she always hanging on you!” It was how she said that. Like I was dirty or something that should be living outside. I watched her hand on my shoulder, lookin like a claw off some crab in a basket. I made my mouth break into a smile. “Yes, ma’am.” Those words tasted like vinegar.
We hit a bump that broke me free of the memory. I wanted to talk to Ira. I needed to talk to him. Orpah mighta known. The way she looked at me in early July while she was hangin the wash let me know she knew. How she made sure the was never in a whole lotta light. It was getting to be the thick of summer. And Orpah and I was just watching Tabitha to see if she would turn as brown as bread. If she did, I didn’t know what lie I could tell to save her, me or Ira. Especially, Ira.
I took in the whole sight of Miss Victoria. Gold earrings. Stringy hair that she made Orpah fuss over into this pile on her head. She wore blue because her Nan told her that ‘ladies always wear blue for luck.’ Her dress was hemmed, and she had a new corset. I looked at her chest struggling to keep her breath in it. I got this sick feeling way down deep in me, stirring and rolling like.
I aint never had to be sold. But I knew that fear made my Mama run. That rolling, sick feeling is what I had the last time I thought I was gon be taken from my Nan. I closed my eyes. I thought about Ira. I thought about how he looked at me as I had gotten dressed that morning. He was looking like I was about to blow away outta open window. “You really going?” I looked at him looking at me in the little vanity I had in my room. “Yes, Ira. I’m goin’.” He shivered, still in his dirty field clothes, in my hot room. “I jus thank you about to be fed to a spider is all.”
Fed to a spider.
Sister Anne told me about at time she had almost been sold. Sold to a man that all he did was, ‘keep and breed’. That was why she had to run. I thought about the house. I thought about Isabelle. I thought about Ira and Tabitha. I thought about never seeing them again. I thought about how I couldn’t leave yet, she had to pay for what she did to my Daddy. To my family. I wouldn’t be tricked or satisfied till I did what God hadn’t done yet.
I woke up to a hand on me, and pulling at my dress. There was this small child pulling at my dress, with these big ole grass green eyes and brown hair. “Tally! Tally!” I squinted, making my mind settle. she wore green calico and her face was dirty. “Come inside and see your room!” I looked at her, and her dirty little hands. “Room?”
The little girl looked at me, her eyes as big as the moon over the big house we were in front of. I thought she was looking for the lie floating on the inside of me. “You are going to stay with us now Tally! Daddy made sure of it! For my birthday, I got you!”
My mother, the Grand Amshun, cried at the birth.
The pain of the birth of a were whelp is never easy. I remember the crushing pain on my hips, and how that pain flooded my back. This ripping fire that had consumed me. The midwives, my cousins Henjah and Makara, told me they had never seen a birth so hard. I remembered crying. The tearing and the crying of tears that weren’t mine.
I had been ready for this moment for months. My mother had been guarding me in the Open Plane. Farron had completed his Beginning to become Alpha in his own right. The night before he was to return to me, I woke up to soaked in fluid and in the most excruciating pain I had ever known. I had gotten up to call to my mother in the room and the world remained black.
I was hurt, and in the Open Plane. Somewhere you are never supposed to be at times where you are injured. I was in water, I was cold and the pain had gotten worse. I was screaming. I called for my mother. For Makara. For Henjah. The only three that could fine me on the Open Plane. There no light, and all I could feel was my womb fighting the enteriety of my body. “Ahandra!” I didn’t recognize the voice. “She is mine!” There was growl, and eyes. Not gold from Farron. These were gray, this blue gray that I had seen along the beaches of Myrtle Beach.
The eyes advanced towards me. “Recounce!” The growling grew louder, more insistent. The light came as the eyes advanced towards me. It was Narmon, in were form. I saw myself in the white dress as I was always in with Farron. There was blood around my feet, and I was unsure of how I was standing. I went down again, pain was all I could register. The pains were closer together, insistent and furious. Kicks harder, the were I carried determined to leave my body. I felt myself falling to this newly revealed sandy ground. I wrapped my left arm around my belly, preparing to brace the ground with my right. As I fell, I saw Narmon lunge towards me. I couldn’t scream. I clutched my belly harder, ready to hit the ground. The pain I could understand. The birth I had prepared for. The were whelp I understand. I closed my eyes only to reopen them when I didn’t fall to the ground. I was flanked by red robes. “Ahandra!” I couldn’t make out the voice. I couldn’t understand what was happening. The red robes bearing me up. “We have her! Now, Ahandra!”
My eyes open to be on the same bed, my mother at the foot of it. “Push, Tzipporah!” her eyes were green. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was so tired. I needed Narmon. I needed him there. I closed my eyes to see him. I couldn’t remember Farron. “Narmon, Narmon.” My head thrashed back and forth, my sweat being wiped away by my cousin Makara. “He’s calling her back to him, Ahandra!”
There was more ripping of my body and something being pulled from me. I screamed, felt that my heart was being fulled from my chest. “Narmon!” I heard his growl in my ears. “Don’t let her go back to the Open Plane!” I closed my eyes, tried to breathe. Tried to pinpoint where the pain was in order to push pass it. “Narmon!”
There was breezes around the bed where I lay writhing. “Ahh!” I felt my legs kicking. My heart pounding. “Narmon!” My tone more insistent, more needy. There were weights on legs. Hands I hoped. There was more patting of my forehead, more movement and rushed voices. “Push, Tzipporah! Push! You need to push just once more!” I gripped the hand that held my right and pushed. “Narmon!”
I felt the breath leave my body and the coolness return. I was in the blanket darkness again. I tried to move through the water, wading towards the shore and the faint light there. I saw him and my heart lept in my chest! “My love!” I went towards the towering figure on the shore, willing my Open Plane body forward. “Tzipporah!” I felt the weight of the wet clothes I wore. I felt my body tense and lungs burned. I lifted my knees willing to my chest to get to the shore. A small wave pushed me to the shore, and I fell down, the sand clammy under, my hands. I swallowed, spit out the water. I closed my eyes to gather my strength. There were hands on my wrists to pulled me to my feet.
My eyes remained closed, relieved to see him. When they opened, I saw Narmon. I snatched my hands away. “How?!” He only grinned at me. “You called me, not your Alpha.” I turned from him, tears hot on my face. “Tzipporah!” My mother’s voice. I looked around for her. She would know what to do. There were hands around my shoulders, holding me to the Open Plane. “Tzipporah!” I turned shaking him from me. “Nothing! There is nothing you can say that can allow you to be here.”
“You called me.”
“You did not have to answer!” I wanted to hurt him, bloody his face, bring him to his knees. “I am the wife, the mate of the current Alpha. I am the mate of the Third.” Narmon snarled. “I am his.” I saw his eyes flash that steely blue gray. “You have Leah. Go to her!” I pointed off behind him. ‘Tzipporah!” I looked behind me, certain I would see my mother. But I saw a red cloak. I had been spotted on the Open Plane. I turned to walk towards the comfort of the tall figure in the cloak. “We both must renounce the bond.” He said, a snarl in his voice. I didn’t answer couldn’t look back.
I made it to the red cloak, and seeing the figure in it, I screamed. It wasn’t my mother. It was Farron. He took my hands and said nothing.
I woke to find myself in bed, warm and in dry clothes. My mother was at my side. I saw the concern in her face. “Where is my whelp? Where?” She cupped my face, and I brushed her hands away. “I need to nurse him.” I saw tears threaten her eyes.
“Twins, Tzipporah. You had twins.” I shook my head. “You almost left the world.” I tried to sit up. “My sons. I need my sons!” She stood, looking at me with pity. “The errant bond almost killed you.” I looked at her, the coldness returning. “It took the elders of the council to save you.” I swallowed, prepared for what she said next. “One died. The younger boy.” There was a wail that rose in my chest, and I couldn’t remember what else she told me. My son was dead. I was in an errant bond, and Alpha could not break it. Not alone. No one knew where another Alpha was whom could help. The nearby Alpha, too, had fallen ill to the same illness that had killed the Second of our tribe.
The amshuns had come to see me early the morning. The sun was still red, but yet I was covered in a sheen of sweat. The closer Tzipporah had come to birth, the harder it had become to sleep. I wondered if my brother, now my Alpha had experienced the same thing. She was his mate, not mine. It was his child, the new heir, which was theirs.
There red robes looked like an Egyptian plague. The Grand Amshun, was always the oldest. This was Tzipporah’s mother. The other amshuns were her cousins, Makara and Henjah. “Get up, Narmon.” It was her mother’s voice in my head. As my eyes adjusted to the predawn light, I saw them. All with some permutation of Tzipporah’s face and eyes.
“Get up, my Prince. Get up!” It has Henjah’s voice. I had thought to make her mine before Leah had grabbed my attention. I sat up, making no attempt to cover my chest. I smirked when the Grand Amshun nudged her nieces to remain focused. “Narmon.” her voice was morose, as she always seemed to be. “We know about the bond.”
I was silent as a weight settled in my chest. “I need to know if you were with Tzipporah before she was fated to be with Farron.” I stared at her, held her eyes. She knew I had been. She didn’t need to ask what she already knew. I only blinked and nodded. Her mouth moved then, her voice real and palpable. She kept her hood on, an spoke, her words like acid in my ears. “You need to tell me how. How many times. And why!” I heard the rage below her decorum. I never liked her mother, she always spoke to me as if I wasn’t the oldest. “It was moment of passion after her father died, your husband.” I wanted to tell her more, but thought it best not.
“Your moment with my daughter, ” she swallowed, keeping her eyes on me, never leaving the foot of the bed. “The mate of our Alpha, has caused an errant bond.” I closed my eyes, wishing she would go away as quickly as she had come. “That is a superstition Ahandra. Errant bonds don’t exist.” I opened my eyes an saw her eyes shift from brown to gold. “This is why you were not chosen, and could never never be Alpha!” I stood to my feet, wrapping the white sheet around my waist. “This was all your doing that I am not Alpha! You loved my father and hated my own mother!” She moved closer to me, her flanking nieces staying at the foot of the bed. “You are not Alpha, because you were chosen not to be.” her voice was cool as she approached me, eyes still gold. “You are not Alpha because you are not an Alpha.” She dropped the hood of her cloak, the gray and black length of her hair framing her face. “Your father knew when you ran away before the Consecration for your Beginning, you could not be Alpha.”
“Liar!” I turned my back on her, feeling as she was seeing what was happening on the inside of me. “And you now turn your back on your Amshun!” There was thunder in her voice. “This errant bond between you and Tzipporah must be severed! Errant bond can only be servered by the oldest Amshun and the Alpha.” The words stung at me, opening memories and wounds. My Concsecration. My night without Leah. My night with Tzipporah. Both of us broken. I thought nothing of her after. It was only after she was with Farron did it all matter. I couldn’t get her off of my mind. She was in the Open Plane. I could smell her when I woke. She robbed me of sleep.
“Have the dreams lessened?” It was Makara’s voice. “I know they haven’t. You know that during the Beginning, our kind are most sensitive.” I kept my eyes to the window, feeling the tears come as I was too stubborn too before. “You have bonded with the mate of our Alpha, your brother.” My heart began to break at the truth of her words. “You need to renounce her in order for Narmon to have her totally.”
My body, with all it’s strength, committed to not moving. Renounce her in order for Narmon to have her totally. I fought back the wolf, phasing would change nothing. Ahandra spoke again. “Her birth will be soon. The heir will be born to the rightful Alpha.” I turned to face the three of them, feeling the snarl in my chest. “She belongs with Farron. She is his mate.” Henjah spoke, her eyes green rather than gold. “We are looking for another Alpha to break the bond.” Ahandra spoke, her voice resonating. “But you must renounce her.”
They turned to leave. Henjah, Makara and Ahandra. As the door shut, I fell to the floor and howled. “She is an errant bond?!” I howled. My mind and body rejected. If this be true, I knew there we cases of weres whom died when they had to renounce a bond, because of the pain. It is said errant bonds can kill a were more than anything known to our kind.
Ahandra had been The Grand Amshun for more than a century. She knew this. Ahandra had sounded my death knell.
Late Spring 1881- Natchez, Mississippi
I couldn’t tell Orpah what I thought. I couldn’t tell Miss Isabelle what I thought I knew. I knew there were nigras hung for the ‘picion of something like I was thinkin’! I had heard about what happened to that slave on that plantation in L’sana. Sister Anne said they took her ear, then hung her in the living room ’cause she killed the Massa’s family.
Isabelle had gotten so big, and hurting so bad all she could do is lay in her big feather bed. I remember what Sister Anne said about that. This labor was gon be hard. When Miss Victoria had come back from her visit last week, she asked if the baby had stirred in her. I lied. I needed a few more days to think. There was too much to think about now. If Ira was this baby’s Pap, there was too much else to worry about.
The day the baby came into the world, it was early morning. I was up with Orpah hanging wash because I hadn’t been seeing much of my own bed for the last three days. Miss Victoria had moved my room from the otherside of the parlor to upstairs in her dead husband’s study. “I need you to be close by for the baby, Tally.” She didn’t know I hated when people called me Tally that didn’t know me from when I was little. I sat in that big ole room in that old white shift Miss Victoria gave me, in that old bed and looked out the window. I looked out on the quiet night from the upstairs window, and saw my Daddy swinging in them trees beneath it. “God, gimme the faith to do what I need to do.”
I didn’t know who was hollering louder or who started it. My new room overlooked the backyard on the west side of the house. All I could hear was screaming. “Tally! Tally! Where the hell are you, Tally! Dammit! Tally!” I went through the back door and up the stairs forgettin to wipe off the boots from the leftover mud from two days before. “Here me! Here I come!” I thought about how I told Isabelle to breathe, told her how to sit in the bed. How to keep her head about her when the pains hit.
I got to the top of the stairs, and Victoria was rushin around like wind trying to keep her still. Isabelle was pullin at her hair and the covers! I went to my room for the birth linens. I went back to her, holding her hand. “Tally! Tally!” Isabelle’s blue eyes were wide, looking at me to make it stop. “Breathe, Missus. Breathe.” Isabelle let me call her by her proper name when we was alone or her Mama was gone. “Imma have to check you, Missus, okay?” She shook her head, holdin my hand real tight. “Where is the water, Tally!” I turned to Miss Victoria, trying to remember not scream and curse her to Hell where I’m sure she come from. “It is hot water on the stove still, Miss Victoria. Just brang that to me.” she nodded her yellow hair in a pile on top her head. The morning sun making the whole room shine. I got to the foot of the bed, and looked under her sheets. There was blood already on the sheets. “Breathe, Belle.” I whispered. “Calm yaself and breathe.”
The baby’s head was comin’ and coming fast. I got a sheet from the top of the pile, and wiped the blood from her thighs. the top of the baby’s head had dark hair. I bit the inside of my lip, breathing to make sure I catch the baby when he came. I said it was gon be a boy, and I was hopin all my learnin from Sister Anne would help me. I looked up from my perch at the end of the bed. “Belle, get your towel. He comin’.” Isabelle grabbed the towel I had her soak in the liquor and water. “Okay, Belle. Push. Push like you pushin water out that well pump.
The screaming. She screamed, she kept her legs tight. Miss Victoria had brought the water in the big white bowl and set it by me. I hear her feet behind me, walkin and prayin. She was soundin like a hant. The head was out, and I wet another towel and wiped his face. “Push, Isbella!” he mother sounded like she was crying. I dipped my hands in that hot water and reached around the baby’s shoulders. “Push, Miss Isabelle.” I heard her muffled cry, and she pushed. Shoulders were out and I heard the bed rattle. I heard the footsteps go from behind me to the top of the bed. I looked up, Isabella was red as the water in one of the bowls and tears all over her face.
I looked at the baby, half inside her and half in the world. “Tally! Is my grandbaby here? Hurry up!” I looked at her as if she would die right there. “Almost, Missus. Almost.” I got new a new towel. In two pushes, this baby would be here! I looked at him, heavy and pink. “Breathe in one more time, Missus. He’s almost here!” I heard the bed rattle. I heard Isabelle screaming. I kept tellin her to breathe. Instead of two pushes, it took four. With all her strength, and all Sister Anne taught me, the baby was out.
Not a boy.
A big ole healthy girl. I put her on my lap like Sister Anne told me. I wrapped her in a blanket, warming her up like I had all those babies in the brothels Sister Anne took me to. From purple, to blue to pink. When I wrapped her back up, I gave her to Isabelle. Her mother just a cooin over her and the new baby. She was crying the strong cry healthy babies do. I went to my room and got the salve Sister Anne taught me how to make. The salve was supposed to draw her back together. I took the towels from the room, and let them to themselves. “I’ll be back to help you make sure she latch, Miss Isabelle.” If this girl was Ira’s, I would know soon.
I woke up to moaning, this moaning from Isabelle’s room. I crept up out of my bed, thinking that she was up and nursing the baby. I stepped down that hall, foot after foot feeling colder as I went. I looked into the room, the cold going from my feet to my heart. I closed my eyes and looked at the bed. “Please Jesus.” I saw the baby in the bed. Isabelle asleep. And Ira, tall and dark as a hickory tree, wrapped around her, fast asleep. I almost cried. Ira might have just killed us all.