One fine spring morning, Chief Powhatan called Pocahontas to him. As usual, Pepper was rubbing the girl’s ankles, trying to replace the scent the dreadful water had washed away. She followed her friend into the Chief’s long house. When Powhatan but his hand down to her, she leaped up next to him on his platform and rubbed her face against his hand.
By now, Pepper had learned to understand the Powhatan language. She was able to follow their conversation without Otter’s help.
“Daughter, I need you to travel to the Patowomekes for a time and learn what you can of them.”
“Yes, father, what would do you wish to know?”
“They have been obstinate in their refusal to join our confederacy; they refuse to pay tribute. I wish to know why. What are their plans? Will they ally with the English against us?”
“But why me, father? Why not your brother Opechancanough, or one of the other men?”
“Bah, they will only make the Patowomekes angry. You, my daughter, can charm the honey from the bees. I may call you “Little Wanton,” but you know I think you the smartest and most graceful of all my children.”
“Thank you father. When do you wish me to leave?”
“This very day.”
“But what of my husband, Kocoum?”
“You and he have produced no children. I will dissolve your marriage. Perhaps you will find a husband among the Patowomekes and make an alliance with them.”
Pocahontas got up to pack the things she would take with her on her trip. She seemed a bit downcast, to be saying goodbye to her home. Pepper was devastated. Her person was leaving. She would never see the beautiful girl again.
Even though Pocahontas had given her to Powhatan, she had never felt like his. The great Chief was always kind to Pepper. He never threw her down or pushed her away. He never kicked her or smacked her as some people did to cats. But he wasn’t hers. She was his, and she had to do his bidding, just like Pocahontas, and that meant they could no longer be together.
Pepper did her best to spend every remaining moment with the girl she loved so much. She tried to crawl into the basket Pocahontas was filling with her spare aprons and her jewelry. She rubbed against the girl, even after she’d put her red paint on, turning herself into a gray, white, and red mess. She butted her head under her hand, to try to get the girl’s attention. But the more she tried the more tense Pocahontas seemed to get.
Finally she picked Pepper up and dropped her to the floor hard. “Go away. I’ve got work to do.”
Pepper slunk under the bunk and curled into a tight ball. She listened to the sounds of packing going on over her head, and when they finally stopped, she knew it was time for Pocahontas to leave. She opened her eyes and saw that the girl was peering under the bed, and holding out her hand for one last rub.
“I’m sorry, Little Guardian, I didn’t mean to be short with you. Will you not come out and say goodbye?”
“Meow,” Pepper replied.
She crawled out from under the bunk and Pocahontas swept Pepper into her arms. It was almost too much to bear. She rubbed her scent on the girl’s face and neck, as if she could anoint her permanently, and make it so intense that she would never forget. Pocahontas carried Pepper out of the long house and up to the fire pit, where Powhatan was fletching arrows.
“I’m ready to go, father.” Pocahontas bent down to hand Pepper to the Chief. “Little Guardian, you look after my father.”
Pepper gave one strangled cry as Pocahontas placed her on the Chief’s lap, but did her best to hold still and not scratch him. She looked at her dear friend, and saw the sadness in her eyes. Powhatan must have seen it too.
He picked Pepper up and handed her back to his daughter. “No, my child. You must take the Little Guardian with you. I’ve learned much about cats from her and Otter, and one thing I know is that you can’t give a cat to someone. A cat chooses their person, and Little Guardian has chosen you.”
Pocahontas laughed and hugged Pepper to her. The cat was ecstatic. She purred so loudly that all the people turned to laugh. She rubbed her face against the girl’s red painted face and neck, until the Indian girl put her in the basket. She slung the basket over her shoulders, and Pepper rode like this all the way to the Patowomeke’s village.
When they arrived, Pocahontas was at first greeted with skepticism. Pepper could sense their doubt over her mission there. They reeked of suspicion. But the girl wasn’t her father’s favorite for no reason. She won over the Patowomekes, or so she thought. But Pepper was not convinced. The Little Guardian could smell treachery in the breath they used to make the deceitful words.
They had only been there a short time, when an Englishman, Captain Argall, arrived. Pepper recognized him as the man who had come to beg Powhatan for corn the year before. Henry Spellman was with him. Pepper was surprised to see Henry; he had disappeared many months ago from Chief Powhatan’s village. She didn’t realize that the English boy had come here to the Patowomekes too. Pepper wanted to hear what they were saying. She wiggled her way through a gap in the reed mats covering the long house and hid beneath one of the raised sleeping platforms.
Pepper realized that she could no longer understand the English language. She’d been so young when she left Jamestown, and had lived with the Powhatan for so long that she had forgotten it. All she could understand was the side of the conversation that was in Algonquian. What Pepper heard was disturbing, and she wished she had a way to tell Pocahontas
The next morning, Japezeus and his wife invited Pocahontas to go to the river and view Captain Argall’s ship. Pepper at once began to fuzz up her fur and yowl, hoping that the girl would see her behavior as a warning. Instead, her friend scolded her and threatened to lock her in a huskanaw pen. The girl took Captain Argall’s arm and allowed him to escort her to the boat.
Pepper slunk along behind them, trying to stay out of sight, but not wanting to lose track of the party. If her person got on that ship, she might sail away from Pepper. The best she could do was stay with her and share Pocahontas’ fate.
Once they reached the small dock, Pepper slipped up to Pocahontas and began winding around her ankles. She thought the girl would pick her up.
Pocahontas ignored Pepper. But Pepper could tell she was eager to see the inside of the giant swan canoe.
Then Japezeus’ wife said. “Please, my friend, come with me onto the ship. I would like to explore the long house that floats on the water, but my husband won’t allow me to go alone.”
The little cat perked up her ears and stopped rubbing her head on the girl’s ankles. Pepper wished there was some way she could tell the girl how false this was. But she sensed a change in the girl’s body language. All the eagerness drained out of the Indian girl, and suspicion replaced it. Thank goodness, she knew it’s a trap, Pepper thought.
Pocahontas bent down and picked Pepper up. “I’ll come on board your ship, for a short time, but then I must get back to my work.”
Pepper was furious and terrified. What was the girl thinking? She twisted and hissed, trying to make her see that this was a bad idea.
Captain Argall tried to snatch Pepper away. “This cat has the madness; let me fling it into the river before it infects us all.”
Pocahontas turned away from him, gripping Pepper tighter. When Henry Spellman translated what the Captain had said, Pepper knew she needed to calm down. She relaxed in Pocahontas’ arms. With no more excuses or delays, the Indians boarded the ship and took a tour. Later they had lunch on the deck of the ship, and Pepper saw the English use all the many shiny objects to deliver food to their mouths. Pocahontas was a natural, and despite her apprehension, kept up a lively conversation.
After the luncheon, she asked to return to the village to finish her many chores for the day. Once again, Japazeus’ wife begged her to stay on board. She wanted to spend the night, and see what it was like to fall asleep on the floating long house. Pocahontas must have known this was a trap, but there were guards blocking her escape. The girl decided to play the role of guest, instead of hostage.
Pocahontas and Pepper went to sleep in one of the narrow bunks in the stern castle. Sure enough, when they woke the next morning, they were well down river toward Jamestown.
The Powhatan girl stroked Pepper’s soft fur. “So far our captivity has been comfortable. I think we’re bound to spend some time with the English, no matter what we do. We might as well make the best of it. Perhaps we can forge an alliance between the English and the Powhatan that will last.”
“Meow.” Pepper rubbed the girl’s hand.
“And maybe you’ll see some cats you know.”
Pepper hadn’t thought of this. Maybe she would see her mother and father again. There was also Toady and Valide, her grandparents, and her Uncle Twenty-seven. Perhaps this would all turn out for the best. But what if they’d returned to England. Pepper hopped off Pocahontas lap and began to pace.
The girl joined her. “I don’t want to go back to Jamestown. It will be too sad now that John Smith is dead.”
Pepper wanted to tell her that she’d heard her parents talking about this John Smith. The story of his adventures was one of the bedtime stories they used to tell Pepper and Morton. Her parents told her that he returned to England after suffering a wound, but he was still alive. But all she could do was say, “meow.”
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