Seed – Time and Summer
In the summer woods he opened his eyes. The world did not appear. He raised his head but there was no sign of daybreak. Mist blew about his face. Beyond the pines the tidal river flapped like a great heart beating. Nearer, he heard the sounds of hundreds of men breathing as they slept. But he didn’t know who lay beside him. He must be more careful. He had flung himself down carelessly, the death dance beating in the soles of his feet.
The three would die today.
Was that an eye? Something glowed in the darkness to his right. He raised his good hand and moved it through the space that separated him from whatever was glowing. It didn’t blink. Then he remembered: silver. A silver coin had been tied into the hair of one of the brothers who had come to him on horseback from the town out on the plain. Their father had been of the people but had long ago cut his hair and gone to live among Englishmen and plant wheat. The sons were returning: “We have come to fight in your war.”
The bitter river flapped against its banks. He sat up. He could make out the shapes of trees, but nothing of color. It might start today, his war. At daybreak, when the three men would be hanged in Plimouth. If any of them spoke his name as the ropes slid around their necks, the war could begin. By sunset the soldiers would be here. Jerked by the neck on ropes, that’s what Englishmen did with those who had murdered. Betrayers of the people they split into four parts and took the head to ram onto a pole.
“For the murderer, I use the club,” he had explained in the rum houses, sitting in the big chair his friends always gave him. His friends, their green eyes wide, leaned forward to hear him. “A murderer kneels at my feet and opens his mouth to sing. I raise my club and sink it fast down through the hard bones into the softness of the brains. If the murderer does not cry out, the people cheer. Now, for a traitor I use the long knife. I make a shallow cut here, at the wrist, and pull the skin down and peel it over the fingertips. He sings. If he does not, the people come laughing with their torches to burn him. But,” he had added last time, fingering the frill at the wrist of his English shirt, “No man has yet betrayed me.”