Pocahontas bowed to her father and then came right up and stroked his face.
Pepper could see the twitch in the man’s cheek that meant he was trying not to smile. When Pocahontas pointed toward her, and said the Algonquin word for gift, the man lost the battle and broke into a wide grin. His straight, white teeth all showed at once, but Pepper knew not to be afraid. This was just what humans did when they were happy. The rest of the people in the room laughed after the great Chief smiled.
Pocahontas placed Pepper in his lap, and she looked up at him and said, “Meow.” Then she rubbed against his chest and arms, covering him in her scent. He had the good clean smell all the Indians had, and skin as soft as butter. The people covered themselves in walnut oil that made it shiny and smooth. The Chief's face had deep frown lines from being so stern, but whenever he looked Pocahontas, he showed his teeth in a big smile.
The great Chief of the Powhatan’s sat and stroked Pepper for a long time, while his people watched in wonder. Pepper knew that the stress was melting away from the fierce warrior just by holding her. That was the secret gift all cats gave to their humans. Even though Wahansunacock wasn’t the person she had chosen, Pepper would treat him well. She might even come to love the stern Chief.
When it was time for nightly prayers, Chief Powhatan let Pepper get down and roam. She followed Pocahontas down to the river where she met Otter again. He had taken up his spot under the bush, well away from the water. Pepper sidled up and rubbed her face against his and then sat down next to him with her hip touching his.
The next morning, Pepper got up before anyone and went to hunt. She knew that moles would likely be out hunting for grubs and worms in the early morning hours before dawn. Sure enough, one of the chubby little beasts trundled out of his hole with a fat wiggly worm clutched in his teeth. Pepper pounced on him and took the worm as a bonus. She was waiting to present her catch to Otter when he came to watch the morning bathing ritual. Right on time the whole group clambered out of their houses and down to the river.
When Otter crawled under their bush and saw Pepper’s offering he hissed, “What are you doing? Why are you giving that to me?”
“It’s a gift. A way to try to earn your favor.”
“Well, it’s foolish. In Powhatan society if they want to marry, the men give the gifts to the women. Are you trying to make me a laughingstock?”
“No. But you’re not a man and I’m not a woman. And WE’RE NOT GETTING MARRIED! We’re cats. Don’t you know anything about cats?”
Now it was Otter’s turn to look chagrined. No. Uttamatomakkin found me when I was just a kitten and raised me. I never had any other cats to watch.”
“All right, I’ll teach you about cats, you teach me about the Powhatan.” Pepper said.
Otter nodded in agreement and both cats followed the humans into the long house. They found Powhatan on his seat at the back of the building with Pocahontas and Tomakkin on either side of him. He was meeting with some Englishmen. The young white boy, Henry Spellman, was translating. Both cats crawled under the bench and peered out at the meeting.
The white man was on his knees with a blanket spread before him. The blanket was strewn with beads, and small flat pieces of copper, as well as one small cooking pot and two hatchets. He waved his hands over the pitiful offering. “I will exchange all this good copper and these valuable tools for 30 bushels of corn.”
Henry Spellman translated the offer, and silence fell as Powhatan considered. Finally the great man spoke. “You should give us these small items as gifts, tokens of thanks for all we have done for you. My own people go hungry to feed you English, but it is never enough; you always want more.”
The white man said, “We only ask for a small amount to feed our people. We are willing to pay for what we need.” He again gestured toward the items on the blanket.
“I want muskets and axes as payment, not scraps of copper and cheap beads. You gave your guns to our enemies the Kehotagan, and now they think they can defeat us.”
“It was a mistake to put guns into the hands of the naturals,” the white man said. “We don’t want to arm people for war. We are only asking for enough corn to see us through the rest of the winter. If you want more pots, or hatchets, I can arrange to deliver more.”
“Pah, I have made my decision; we do not trade with the English. If you want food, go back to England and get it. As for your beads and copper, I’ll accept them as a gift. You should have given them without question for all the food we gave the English when you first arrived here. You and I both know, these things are of little value. In fact the only English thing I have of value is my cat.”
Pepper purred with contentment. But what would the English do if they couldn’t get the food they needed through trade?
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