Over the next nine months Pepper spent all her time learning about the Powhatan people. She was even beginning to understand their Algonquin language. Now when Pocahontas and Powhatan talked to her it made sense (in a human sort of way that is).
The great Chief was kind to her, but often busy with the affairs of state. The Chiefs or Werowances of other tribes came to him almost daily to ask for his help or his counsel. He would often entertain them with a feast and dancing. His wives and many daughters helped prepare the food.
Pocahontas was often busy grinding corn, roasting tubers, or dressing the meat the men collected.
She also spent a good deal of time in the forest gathering wild food like berries, nuts, and roots. On top of that the girl had to cultivate the corn and tobacco that was grown in small plots around the settlement. She rarely travelled far, and Pepper was always welcome to join her on her foraging trips or in the fields.
Kocoum, Pocahontas’ husband, however, was often gone for days on end. He was either off fighting battles with neighboring tribes, hunting, or fishing. Pocahontas didn’t seem distressed by his long absences. Pepper never had to calm her to sleep. She seemed to take it in stride that her husband would go off and sometimes might never return.
Early that fall, the Powhatan were preparing for the great feast celebrating the first corn harvest. Pepper was trying to stay out of everyone’s way. Teams of women took turns pounding a giant pestle into a hollow stump full of shelled corn. They used gourds to scoop the finely ground corn into baskets. Other women mixed the ground corn with salt and water and formed cakes. They grilled these like pancakes, on thin sheets of slate laid over the coals. Or they made them into balls and dropped them into the pots of bubbling water.
Pepper was not much interested in corn, or anything made out of it. But she did find something that she loved. Some of the women were shucking a huge pile of oysters. Now that was a tasty treat that a cat could really enjoy. Pocahontas used her bone knife to slice off tiny slivers for Pepper. The cat wound herself around the girl’s ankles purring and rose up on her back legs begging for more.
Turkey was another tasty treat, but one that Pepper would never have been able to catch on her own. Turkeys were enormous creatures. The males strutted about with the chests thrown out and their tail held like a great fan behind them. In fact, the way Otter swaggered about the town was just like a tom turkey.
The hens were smaller than the toms, but still much too big for a little cat like Pepper to catch. But Pocahontas was always willing to feed her bites of the succulent turkey whenever they had some. Even Chief Powhatan would sneak her a bite if she rubbed his leg just right during meal time. He was so proud of “his cat” that he wanted to show her off to everyone who visited.
After finishing the food preparation, the women went inside to get ready. Pepper followed Pocahontas to see what she would do. First the Indian girl rubbed red paint all over her face, shoulders and upper torso. Then she braided her long straight hair and wound it around the back of her head and used feathers and beads to decorate it.
Pepper went to watch Chief Powhatan getting ready. He looked regal painted crimson. His great roach of red deer hair fanned out from the front of his head to the back. Many earrings – made from copper, pearls, and blue beads – dangled from his lobes.
Then she went looking for Otter. His person Uttamatomakkin almost scared Pepper out of her skin. Was he a man or a bird? She hissed and jumped away from him.
“Stop hissing at Tomakkin,” Otter said.
“Why has he turned into a bird?”
“It’s just a cloak of feathers that he wears for ceremonies,” Otter said.
She didn’t have time to listen to one of Otter’s lectures; she had too much to see. She decided to hide in the long house and take a nap before the festivities got started. When she woke up the feast was already underway. She wove around the feet of all her favorite people, collecting tidbits of the most savory dishes. The only things she didn’t like were vegetables and nut milk. Nut milk was made from ground up nuts, mixed with water. The Indians thought it’s the best ever, but Pepper would prefer a nice bite of venison.
Soon after the feast ended the dancing began. All the people formed a huge dance circle. The drums pounded and the people danced all night long. They sang songs to the god Okeus. Just before daybreak the people finished dancing and feasting. Chief Powhatan, Uttamatomakkin, and the other elders went into the sweat lodge to cleanse themselves. Pocahontas invited herself along and her father indulged her as always. Pepper decided she would join them.
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