The Hand of Providence
She had survived the journey on the ship, and it galled her. She had tried so many times to die. She had slept near the sick when possible. She had refused to eat, then forced her body to reject the food they had force-fed her. She had not tried to avoid bites from the rats and other vermin in the belly of the great ship. But the gods had not let her die, even though dozens, perhaps hundreds of others had died around her and been left rotting, skin to skin, with the living until the next meal, or next forced exercise. She was not to be favored, like them - not to be spared the horror to come. She was cursed, doomed to a life of slavery in a strange land, to a strange and brutal people.
Her first master had thought her beautiful, even though she was battered, covered with scabs from the bites, weary from the journey, thin from malnutrition. She had never before looked or felt so sick in all her life. But he saw something in her, in the way she raised her head and stared at them all, refusing to be ashamed of her nakedness among a crowd of strangers.
He had changed his opinion of her one week later, when he had tried to force himself on her, and she had bitten off half his ear. For a week before the event, other slaves had bathed her, clothed her in the strange clothes of the country, and cared for her until she was healthier. Because they were slaves with her, and because they shared food with her from a small supply, she did not refuse the food and she did not force her body to reject it, even though she wished that they would just let her starve.
They began teaching her the language of the slave masters, and though they were of a different tribe than she, they made her to understand that her name was now "Jane", and they taught her to say "Yes, master" and "No, master". They taught her some of their names, some of the names for foods of the country, and they taught her some basic rules she was expected to follow.
After The Event, she was whipped until she passed out. When she awoke, she was whipped again. She began to be relieved. Maybe she would be beaten to death. But after the second time, she was again cared for by the other slaves, some of whom seemed to think her foolish, others of whom seemed proud of her. Those who had seemed proud continued to teach her the language of the masters, and by the time she was well enough to stand on her own, she could understand many words and phrases. By listening to the slaves speak to one another, she learned even more.
One day, when she felt fairly well and after the healthy slaves had returned from their long day of work, her master ordered her to be brought to him and put into his carriage. He took her back to the market and demanded his money back. The master of the auction ridiculed him and told him management of his property was his own concern, and all sales were final. The man who had bought her became enraged and screamed that he would kill her. The auctioneer said it was his affair to waste his own money, and continued to gather his belongings and close down his stand.
Her master dragged her in fury out toward the road, stripped the dress from her and began to beat her right there in the streets. A few passersby stopped to watch, seeming shocked that he had taken off her clothes, though not that he was beating her. They whispered to one another about what she might have done and about the indecency of the man for letting her be naked when the auction house was closed and she clearly wasn't "new".
She felt herself beginning to pass out, but before she could begin to hope that she would finally be killed, a man stepped forward from the crowd and shouted for her master to stop. He ignored the new man, kicking her, and striking her in a rage. A moment later, the new man grabbed her master by the arm and flung him off of her, seeming to move him easily even though the new man was thinner than her master.
Her master raged and said he had the right to do what he wanted with his property. The new man spoke more softly, but she could still hear his words. He said the treatment was indecent, and he would hurt the man if he didn't stop. "If you touch her again, I will make you regret it."
The man tried to remain angry, but he also seemed frightened of the new man. The others seemed frightened of him, too - they stood farther from him than they had stood from her master, and looked away if he glanced in their direction. Her master spoke, his tone full of false bravery. "You're so high and mighty, so concerned about saving them all, then YOU can take care of her. But you'll have to buy her from me first."
The new man frowned, and the people watching moved back further away from him. The new man looked down at her, and for a moment, she, too felt afraid. His expression was hard, but she knew he felt sympathy for her. Still, there was something deep within his shining blue eyes that was not... normal.
The new man turned back to her master and said, darkly, "How much?"
Her master seemed surprised, and stammered, "I... well I paid two hundred for her, so..."
"I'll give you seventy-five." The man blustered and stuttered and said it was ridiculous. "Don't be an idiot, and don't dare think you can take me for one!" the man hissed. Silence fell, and the onlookers backed further way. "You think I canít see? You were going to kill her a second ago, so you were going to get nothing, and you were going to have to pay for her burial. Do you want the money or not?"
Her master stood frozen for a moment, then nodded. The new man pulled out a leather wallet, counted out the money and shoved it at her master. Her master took the cash from him, then pulled out the documents that proved she had been sold to him from the auction. The two men signed the papers, and her first master spat in her direction. "Good riddance!"
The new man picked up the dress that had been torn from her, but her former master shouted at him. "Those are mine! You have to pay extra for those!"
The new man glared at him, dropped the dress back into the dirt and then spat on it. He looked up, almost daring the other man to speak. The other man backed away from him. With a shaky hand, he picked up the soiled dress, then turned away and walked hurriedly back toward where he had left his carriage.
The people who had been watching left as well, and the new man turned and looked down at her. He pulled off the long brown cloak he wore and draped it around her. He crouched beside her and looked down into her eyes. "My name is James Kirk," he said, pressing a hand to his own chest. "This says your name is Jane Wallace," he said, holding up the papers before slipping them into his pocket. "Is that what you want to be called?"
She looked at him, surprised. Why should he care what she wanted to be called? None of these men had ever asked her what she wanted, unless they asked if she "wanted" to be beaten, or if she "wanted" to be killed. It was strange, almost as strange as whatever it was she had seen in his eyes that had frightened her before. She felt weak, and every part of her body hurt from the beating she had taken, but she pushed herself up so that she was sitting up, looking into his eyes more like an equal, instead of looking up at him from her prostrate position. He let her sit up without stopping her, or helping her, and waited.
In a voice hoarse and weakened, halted with pain, she said, "My... name is... Nyota."
The man gave her a small smile, and nodded. "It's beautiful," he said. "Swahili?" Nyota gasped, completely shocked that he should know such a thing, when none of the slave owners seemed to know, or care, where anyone had been before the ships. He smiled again. Without waiting for an answer, he said, "May I help you up?" Wordlessly, again shocked by his behavior, she nodded her consent.
The man lifted her from the ground with ease, and carried her to a closed carriage that was much finer and of much higher quality than her first master's open wooden carriage. A slave boy of about twelve or thirteen, wearing a fine gray suit, hopped down from the back of the carriage and opened the door for him. "What happened, Mister Jim?" he asked, surprising Nyota by speaking without first being addressed. This was one of the basic rules she had been told to follow by the other slaves. "Did she get a beating?"
"Yes, Akim," James answered, gently laying Nyota across the bench. He arranged the cloak so that her arms were free, but the rest of her body was covered completely. "She was beaten badly by Ed Wallace. We're going to take care of her, okay?"
"Is she going to live with us now?"
"That's right." James closed the door, and she heard him say, "Come on, let's go. When we get home, you can practice your letters. I want you to write a note to Mary and John to look in on her tomorrow."
"Me, Mister Jim?"
"Yes, you, Akim." The carriage was jostled slightly as the two got up into the driver's seats. "You know all the letters, you can do it."
The boy hmmmmed, as if he wasn't quite sure, but he didn't want to argue. "Get on there," she heard the boy say, and the carriage shifted and started to roll.
"Keep it slow, we don't want to hurt her," James said.
"Yes, sir," the boy answered. Nyota tried to sit up so she could see where they were going, but she was too weak, and before long she lost consciousness.
When Nyota awoke, she was alone in a bedroom very much like the one she had been brought to the week after her first master had purchased her. She was immediately on edge, tense and frightened that the new one, James, would try to force himself on her, too. It seemed that he was much stronger than the first man, and she feared he would overpower her before she could even attack him as she had attacked Wallace.
She tried to sit up, but she was still dizzy and weak, and she fell back against the pillows, exhausted just from the attempt. While she lay still, trying to stay conscious, she took stock of herself. There were bandages on her head and arms, where Wallace had broken the skin. She felt pain, but it was not as bad as it had been the day after previous beatings, and she didn't understand why. She was dressed in a white gown of soft material, and the blankets over her were also warm and soft, covered with pictures of blue and pink flowers. The room she was in was clean, with fabrics that were considered fine in this country. There was a wooden table beside her, with a glass of water on it.
Nyota tried, slowly this time, to sit up, and found that she could if she moved carefully. She picked up the glass and drank the water, which tasted better than the water they had been given in the slave shacks on Wallace's property. She felt better when she had finished the water, though she was still worried about what would happen to her.
Soon after she'd discovered the water, there came a tap on the door and it opened. Nyota jumped, startled, but felt relieved when she saw that James was not the visitor. An older slave woman, wearing a maid's uniform, entered the room carrying towels and a large bowl. She smiled when she saw Nyota, and Nyota smiled back, though she still felt nervous.
"Good morning," the woman said. "My name is Mary. Mr. Kirk asked me to take care of you today." Nyota nodded, but didn't speak. "Do you understand me?" she asked. "I heard you've only been here a few weeks."
Nyota nodded again after a few moments. "I understand small," she said slowly. "A little," she corrected.
Mary smiled. "That's just fine. We'll help you, just stop me if you don't understand or don't know the word for something."
Nyota nodded again, and Mary came closer to her and set the towels and the bowl of water onto the table. She asked Nyota to take off the gown, then checked Nyota's many bruises and cuts, shaking her head and muttering about what an evil man Wallace was. When she finished, Mary asked if she was hungry. Nyota said no, and Mary told her to go back to sleep. "Mr. Kirk won't be here until sundown," she said. "I'm sure he'll check on you then. Try to sleep."
"Thank you," she answered. The woman smiled and left, and Nyota went back to sleep.
She was awakened briefly in the afternoon, and offered a bowl of soup by Mary. She shook her head. She didn't want to eat. She still didn't trust this place, no matter how kind this woman was. She didn't want to stay here, and she still thought death would be preferable to living in this strange land. Mary looked concerned, but didn't force her. "You need to get your strength back, honey," she said.
Nyota shook her head again, and the woman set the bowl on her table and left the room. Nyota considered knocking it over, but then Mary would have to clean up the mess, and she didn't want to make extra work for the kind woman. But the smell of the soup taunted her, and her stomach growled angrily at her. Maybe she should try to eat it. If this James Kirk came back and tried to force her, she would be better able to defend herself if she ate something.
Still, the way he pulled Wallace off of her, she felt that she had no chance of defending herself against him. And then there was that... gleam in his eyes, or the... whatever it was, she couldn't define it. Strangeness. What kind of a man was he? No. It was better to starve and end this torture. Though the gods had not allowed her to die before, maybe this time, if she kept her resolve long enough, she would be released. Then she could join her parents and her brothers, all of whom had been killed in the battle that had resulted in her capture, and eventually, her purchase by the White men.
She shut her eyes, pulled the covers over her head to try to block out the smell of food, and eventually, she was able to get back to sleep.
When next she opened her eyes, the room was dark, and she could see the stars winking through the window beside the bed. She smiled. Even though the sight was marred by the strange curtains, and even though she knew that she was still a prisoner, the sight of the night sky had always brought her joy, and it did so now. Her mother had said she was born at the very moment that the brightest star in the night sky shone down on their home, and that was why she had been named "Star".
"It's beautiful, isn't it?"
Nyota let out a startled yelp and scrambled back, shocked by the voice that had seemed to come from nowhere. Her new owner stood at the foot of her bed, frowning at her. She shuddered, holding a hand to her heart. She had never heard a sound from him, not a breath, or rustle of air, nothing, and her hearing was sharper than that of anyone she had ever met.
"I didn't mean to startle you," he said. Nyota tried to calm herself, but she felt that the moment she feared had arrived. She clutched the blankets to her and watched him warily. "I won't hurt you, Nyota," he said calmly. "How are you feeling?"
She only nodded, too nervous to speak. She didn't believe he wouldn't hurt her, and she kept the blankets pulled up to her neck.
"Mary tells me you didn't eat." Nyota looked at the bedside table and saw that the bowl was gone. She must have slept through the woman's next visit. "You aren't well, Nyota," he said to her. "I think you should eat something." She shook her head slowly, cringing when he frowned at her. Now, he would beat her for defying him. He approached the bed, and she tightened her grip on the blankets and stared down at the bed, beginning to tremble. She was normally very brave, but after being beaten to unconsciousness for three days in a row, she was afraid of being beaten again. Especially when she couldn't be guaranteed that she would be released from life in the end.
James Kirk sat down on the bed beside her, but he didn't reach out to strike her or to force her down. "I'm not going to rape you, Nyota," he said. "I heard that's what Wallace tried to do, and I think it serves him right to be disfigured for it. I'm not going to force you to eat, either. Your life belongs to you. Do you understand my words?" Slowly, she nodded. "But I think you should consider something. Wallace had the legal right to kill you for attacking him. Maybe it was just greed that made him try to get his money back instead, or maybe it was providence." Nyota frowned, and he paused. "Do you understand 'providence'?" She shook her head and looked at him, waiting for an explanation. He smiled. "Can you stand?"
Nyota frowned again. She moved her legs and nodded to him. James stood up from the bed and held his hand out to her. "Come with me," he said. She took his hand, and he helped her out of the bed. He waited until she was steady on her feet, then walked slowly with her to the door and out of the bedroom. He took her through a beautiful living area that looked warm and comfortable, and through another area with several closed doors. Finally, they entered a room whose walls were lined with bookshelves. She had seen such places on visits to larger cities when she was small, and she had always wondered how to unlock the mysteries they contained.
There were a few tables and some comfortable chairs in the room, and at one of the tables, the boy who had driven the carriage the night before was seated. He was working patiently with pen and paper, copying symbols from a book onto the page. He looked up when they stepped into the room, then stood up quickly. "Good evening, Mister Jim," he said. "Ma'am."
"Good evening, Akim." Nyota smiled at him.
"Will you be going to town tonight, sir?"
"Maybe in a little while," James said. "Finish your practice."
"Yes, sir." He sat back down, and picked up his pen again.
James gestured for Nyota to come with him to a separate table. "Have a seat," he said. She did so, and he brought a large book and set it on the table. "See the letters," he said. "It reads, 'Dictionary'. That's a list of words and what they mean." She looked at the book with greater interest. He sat beside her and opened the book. "All the words are in alphabetical order. Here we are." He flipped to a page near the back of the book, and found what he was looking for. "Look," he said, holding his finger on the word. "This is what 'providence' looks like written down." Nyota stared at the symbols, suddenly extremely jealous of the boy at the other table, who knew how to write these symbols and knew what they meant. "This is what it says. 'The foreseeing care and guidance of God or nature over the creatures of the earth'."
She looked sharply at him, remembering how he had used the word before. "Maybe it was providence". Maybe the reason she was alive was that the gods cared for her, not that they hated her. But... why this place? Why a slave, so far from home she couldn't truly comprehend the distance? She felt her eyes begin to fill with tears, and she turned away, not wanting James or the boy to see her.
"Listen to me, Nyota," he said softly. "I'm sorry you've been brought here. I'm sorry about any family that youíve lost. The home you've lost. But if you stay with me, I'll make it as easy for you as I can."
Nyota looked at him, stunned again by his choice of words. If? What choice could she have? She was considered his property now. Why was he being so kind to her? Was it to make her drop her defenses, so that it would be easier to do what he wanted to her? "I... I don't... understand you, Master," she said.
"Yes, I think you do," he said. He looked over his shoulder, but the boy was deeply involved in his studies. "You know I'm different, I saw it in your eyes last night." Her own eyes widened and she stared at him, blinking through the tears. "For now, it's enough that you know this about me. I'm not like these people. If they know you work for me, they won't bother you. I bought you from Wallace because the law here says I had to. But I'll pay you for any work you do for me. And you don't have to call me 'master'. I'd rather you call me Mr. Kirk, or if you like, you can call me James or Jim when we're not in the city. I can tell you're very intelligent," he continued. "You've learned to understand a lot of English very quickly. I'll teach you to be fluent, and I'll teach you read and write, too. Would you like that?"
Nyota turned her face away from him again, her tears flowing and her body beginning to shake. Jim sat beside her, waiting patiently. Slowly, he put a hand on her shoulder and held it there without moving it or pressuring her. Just his hand, firm on her shoulder, trying to comfort her without encroaching on her too much. At this gesture, she broke down into full sobs, no longer caring about what the boy would hear or see. She had been in captivity for one year by the enemy kingdom, and six months between the ship, and her few weeks on land in the new country. It was not as long as many of the slaves she had met, some of whom had been slaves for ten or twenty years. Some had been slaves all of their lives. But somehow, in the relatively short time, she had lost the ability to believe that anyone would ever be kind to her, or treat her as a human being, again.
She felt James shift slightly, and a moment later, she heard sound of quick footsteps, and the door to the room opening and closing. He must have sent the boy away. It was another act that showed he felt her worthy of consideration, and it served to make her cry even harder. Slowly, giving her ample time to stop him, James pulled her closer to him, and she leaned her head against his chest and continued to cry until the tears finally stopped on their own.
Slowly, Nyota sat up, and James pulled his arm away. She looked into his eyes. He looked sad for her, as if maybe he had been trying to keep from crying too. The thing that she had seen in his eyes was still there. Something strange. But it no longer frightened her. It simply was. "Thank you for helping me, M-mas... James," she said.
He smiled at her. "You're welcome, Nyota. Now, are you tired? I can start teaching you now, if you'd like."
"Yes," she said. "I... yes, I want to learn now."
"Good," he said, still smiling. "Very good." He called Akim back into the room, and the boy crept in, looking relieved when he saw that Nyota was calm again. James instructed Akim to start his lettering again, and he found more paper and a pen for Nyota to use. He taught her how to hold the pen, and guided her in tracing large symbols like the boy was making.
Before the end of the night, Nyota had memorized all the many letters of the alphabet, and she had learned how to write and read several phrases. James was impressed, and Akim was convinced that she was a genius. When dawn drew near, James ended the lessons, sent Akim to bed, and helped Nyota back to her room. "You're as amazing as I thought you would be," he said to her. "I'll be back at sundown to teach you more."
"Thank you, Jim," she said, so tired she could barely hold her head up. He left her, and she fell asleep immediately.
The next day, when Mary offered her more stew to eat for lunch, Nyota did not refuse.
Nyota was soon fluent in English, and Jim also taught her mathematics, science, geography, history and many other subjects as well. He soon learned that she had an aptitude and a hunger for languages, so he taught her French and Latin, then Italian, Spanish, German and Greek. When she expressed interest in learning other, more obscure languages, he bought her books and they learned together.
Jim was a merchant who dealt in various textiles and leather goods. He had a store in town that was maintained for him by a young man and his wife in exchange for room and board above the shop, and a small salary. He had a moderately sized house, on a small amount of land, which was well suited to him since he was not involved in agriculture. He had four servants: Mary Kirk, his housekeeper and accountant, Mary's son Akim Kirk, his driver and groundskeeper, John Welby, his laywer - a White man who handled his business interests with the textile suppliers, and Nyota, who took over the education of Akim from Jim, wrote correspondence for Jim's business that was not already handled by John, and assisted him in whatever else he needed.
Jim kept strange hours. He was almost never seen during the day, except in the very early morning, and at sunset. He left written instructions for his assistants each morning before he went to do whatever it was that he did during the day. Since most of his business affairs were taken care of by proxy, Nyota often wondered what it was he did. He told Nyota that he had spent many years in Europe, and he was used to the time zones there. He also said that he researched potential sources for more material, but how much research did one need to do, when all the buying was handled by Mr. Welby?
However, although, according to the city's records, Mary, Akim and Nyota were Jim's slaves, he paid them each a salary every month for their work, and he was a kind and fair man. If he only chose to visit his home at night, then they were not inclined to fault him for it. In order to accommodate Jim's odd schedule, the household was casually arranged in day-staff and night-staff. John and Mary worked during the day, Akim and Nyota worked during the night, and often accompanied him to town when he went there in the early evening to check on his store, and visit the other shops and saloons.
Nyota noticed that the townspeople deferred to him when they spoke to him, and they seemed to try to avoid him if they could. As he had said, Nyota and Akim were not bothered by any of the townspeople either. They were left to do what Jim requested of them, without being accosted or harassed by any of the people in town. They were treated with civility in the shops, while some of the other slaves were ridiculed, made to wait excessively long periods, and otherwise disrespected by the shopkeepers (with the exception of Kirk's Fabrics, whose proprietors treated everyone equally).
There was only one visit wherein Nyota encountered trouble from one of the townspeople. Jim sent her to request the daily receipts from the shop, while he went to the book store to check for the latest shipment of books he had ordered. Before she could make it to the shop, a drunken man she had not seen before blocked her path and demanded a kiss from her. Nyota refused him, speaking as respectfully as possible, as she knew she must in town. She tried to pass, but he blocked her again, and insisted more angrily. A few onlookers jeered at him, and ridiculed him for trying to get a kiss from a slave. Some others warned that she was a biter and he would be wise to leave her alone, but the man told them to mind their own business. He demanded a kiss again, and Nyota again refused, looking back toward the bookstore hoping to see Jim.
She was shocked when the man slapped her. "You look at me when I'm talking to you, girl!" Nyota felt her anger rising, but she knew there was nothing she could do against him. She looked at him, pretending that she was waiting obediently for him to speak, but as soon as he began to approach her, she turned and ran as fast as she could away from him. She called for "Mr. Kirk", hearing the man stumbling drunkenly after her. The long dress and fine boots made running difficult, and she could tell that the man was catching up to her, even though he was drunk. She cringed when she felt his hand on her, but at that same second, Jim came out of the bookstore and ran toward them.
"Hey! Take your hands off of her now!"
The man released her and eyed Jim. "She yours?" he asked, glaring at Jim.
"Yes, and you keep your fucking hands off of her, or I'll beat you senseless."
The man drew himself up. He was large, slightly taller than Jim, but Nyota knew that he would be no match for Jim if he chose to fight. "She was rude to me," he said, pointing at her. "I want you to whip her good!"
Nyota stared at the man in shock, but Jim didn't even glance at her to ask if it was true. "I know that's your hand print on her face, and I know she didn't do anything to deserve it," he said. "But I'll let it go because you're a stranger, and you don't know who I am. But I'm telling you now, go back to the bar and get another drink, if you know what's good for you. And if you bother anyone in my household again, you will regret it."
The man swore, and then and rushed at Jim. Jim dodged easily, then punched the stranger hard in the face. The man immediately fell to the ground, unconscious. Jim glanced around at the people who had gathered to watch what they thought would be a fight, then straightened his suit and extended his arm to Nyota. "Come with me. Are you alright?"
"Yes, sir, thank you." She walked beside him to the door of the bookstore. She had to wait outside the store (slaves were not allowed in the bookstore), but no one bothered her, or even looked her way. When he returned with his packages, he stayed beside her and accompanied her past the unconscious drunkard, on to his store to collect the day's receipts. He bought a handful of candies for Akim, and a peach tart for Nyota, and took them back home.
When they arrived home, he told Akim to take the rest of the night off and busy himself however he saw fit, so long as he didn't leave the property. Then he sat Nyota down in the kitchen and dabbed her face with a cool, wet cloth, despite protests that she was fine and it didn't hurt much. Actually, it hurt very much and she appreciated the attention, even though it wasn't nearly as bad as the beating she'd taken from Wallace when Jim first met her.
"Thank you, Jim," she said when he seemed satisfied.
"I don't know who that bastard was," he said angrily. "But if I have trouble from him again, I'll kill him."
"No, sir, please don't get yourself into trouble because of me," she said.
"It'll be no trouble at all," he said.
She was almost startled by the dark fury of his tone, but since she knew that he was not angry at her, but for her, she tried to hide her own fear. She stood up and added kindling to the logs that were already set in the stove. "Would you like some coffee?" she asked him.
"Yes, that would be fine," he said. He brought the kettle over and measured out coffee grounds, while Nyota brought the cups and saucers. They practiced speaking in Japanese to one another while they waited for the water to boil. Then they enjoyed their coffee together, and talked about the state of the shop, and the difficulties of getting in fabrics that would appeal to the townspeople, whose tastes seemed to change so quickly. As they usually did on the nights when Jim didn't visit other towns in the late evening, the two of them stayed up and talked through the night. When it was time for Jim to leave, he saw her to her room, and bid her good day.
Nyota awoke suddenly, to the sound of footsteps outside her window. It was dusk, and the world outside was still orange and purple, as the final rays of the sun died away. She wondered if it was Akim, working in the garden, but it hadn't sounded like his footsteps. Too heavy. It didn't sound like Mr. Welby, either. Suddenly, a stone broke through her window, and a man shoved his arm through and worked to unlock the window. Nyota jumped out of the bed, shocked, and looked around for a weapon she could use against the man. Within seconds, he was in the house, and she recognized the drunken man from the day before.
She raced toward the door, but the man seemed to be more sober this time and he caught her quickly and dragged her back toward the bed. Nyota screamed and scratched fiercely at the man's face. He struck her and struggled to keep her hands away from his face, while still pushing her toward the bed. He lifted her up and tossed her onto the bed, pausing for a second to leer at her. "All I wanted was a kiss before," he said. "But now I'm gonna get everything!"
"You're going to die!" she shouted at him, but he laughed and climbed onto the bed with her. She struggled against him, but he was nearly a foot taller than she, and thicker and heavier than Jim. He managed to get both her hands in one of his, and began to try to lift her gown up.
A second later, all the pressure of his body was lifted from her, and she was pulled forward for a second, before the man let go of her arms in his shock. Nyota saw the man raised up, and then he flew across the room and struck the wall. Jim stood in the center of the room, breathing hard, staring at the fallen man. He turned to Nyota, and the quality that was usually in the "background" of his eyes was fully there. For the first time, Nyota understood what it was that she had seen in him. It was a rage that was both fiery and cold at the same time. It was willingness to kill without any fear, and without any mercy.
He looked at her disheveled state, and his eyes seemed even more fierce. He turned back to where the man had fallen, and moved toward him. The man was back on his feet already, fists up, ready to fight. Jim approached him and the man swung, but Jim shifted so quickly that Nyota didn't see him move. She was shocked by the inhuman speed at which he'd moved, and her attacker hadn't expected it either. He stumbled forward as his fist connected with the air, and in the next second, he was flying through the air. He crashed into the nightstand and a second later, Jim was there in front of him.
Nyota's breaths started to quicken. What was happening? How...
The man looked up at Jim, stunned, and Jim shot a hand down and grabbed the man by his hair. He pulled him up to his knees, heedless of the man's flailing arms landing hard blows against Jim's arms and chest. "I warned you," Jim said, his voice husky with fury - almost a growl. "I warned you, you would regret it."
"You're a freak," the man shouted. "I heard about how you... never show up in town during the day," he said, grunting with the effort to free himself from Jim's grip. "And how you let your slaves take airs with Whites! Well, you're too late," he said with a laugh. "I got what I wanted, I fucked her good! I was just gonna have seconds when-"
The man was interrupted by a feral, inhuman growl from Jim. As Nyota watched, Jim's eyes flashed, and he bared his teeth like an animal. His canine teeth actually grew, sharpening to needle-sharp points before her eyes. He yanked the man up from his knees, jerked his head sideways, and bit down on the man's neck hard. The man screamed, and Nyota backed away from them, moving so fast that she fell off the other side of her bed. She scrambled back until her back was against the wall. In her panic, she tried to keep backing up, rising to her feet, with her hands pressed hard against the wall.
Jim was still sucking the blood out of the man, holding him in a fiercely tight grip. The man had ceased to struggle, and had grown deathly pale. His body jerked and shook like a grotesque puppet, but the violent motions had no effect on Jim. He drank until the man's skin was pale and a little drawn, and his shaking stopped.
He dropped the body to the floor, and looked at Nyota, his lips a ghastly red, his breathing heavy and slow. Suddenly, she heard the door open, and Akim looked in. "Mister Jim-"
"Stay out, Akim!" Jim snapped, not turning his head. The boy jumped and backed out of the room. "Shut the door and get my carriage ready right away."
"Yes, sir." The boy shut the door, and Nyota heard his footsteps running away from the room.
Jim licked the blood from his lips, wiped a stray trail that had rolled down his chin, and wiped it on the dead man's clothes. When he looked at Nyota again, he looked completely normal except for the cold gleam in his eyes. Nyota's body shuddered uncontrollably, and she tried to reconcile what she had seen with the kind man that she had come to love and trust over the past year. Tears welled in her eyes, and she began to cry as she realized that what she had seen, as terrifying as it was, was actually perfectly in keeping with what she knew about the man - his strange hours, the look in his eyes, the way the town seemed to fear him though they could not understand why.
Jim watched her, his expression calm. "I will never hurt you, Nyota," he said simply. Then he bent down, lifted the body off the floor, and walked out of the room, pausing at the door, presumably to make sure that Akim was nowhere in sight. He shut the door behind him, and Nyota promptly fainted.
She awoke some time later, laying in her own bed, with Jim sitting on the bed beside her. She sat up suddenly, clutching the bedclothes to her, just as she had on her second night in his house. "I'm not going to hurt you," he said softly. He looked down, saddened. "I'm sorry I wasn't in time to stop him."
Nyota smiled, wanting to reassure him despite her fear. "No, you did," she said. "He lied to you to make you angry, I think."
Jim frowned, and looked at her closely. "You're not lying to me to make me feel better, are you?" he asked.
"No, sir," she said, shaking her head. "He lied. He hurt me some in the struggle, but he didn't get what he wanted."
Jim smiled and hugged her. He moved so suddenly that she stiffened for a second before forcing herself to relax and return his embrace. "I'm so glad you're okay," he said.
He let her go, and she looked carefully at him. "Jim... how..."
"It's too long a story to tell tonight," he said. "But I'll tell you one day."
She nodded. "Are you like the legends say? You're stronger, and you're much faster than we are. Do you live forever? Do you have to sleep in the earth from your first grave? Do you-"
Jim started to laugh, and she smiled. "So many questions," he said. "Yes, if nothing bad happens to me, I will live forever. Or, that's what we believe. Who knows how long forever is? But I have already been alive sixty years since my turning." She gasped, shocked. "Yes. I'm eighty-five years old, Nyota."
"Amazing," she breathed. "But... how... the people don't-"
"I never stay in one town more than ten years," he said. "And people don't see me during the day, so it's not as striking as it is to you."
She nodded again, looking at him with fresh eyes. Eighty-five years old. But he was young and handsome and strong, and he would never change. "Can you make others become like you?" she asked.
"I can," he said slowly. "But it's a very serious decision, on both sides." She frowned slightly, stung by the thought that she might not be good enough to be changed. "Don't be upset, Nyota," he said. "You are an excellent choice for me. You're highly intelligent, and you're very loyal. But though we're strong and we don't age, we are limited, too. I would be taking you away from the sunlight forever. Forever, Nyota. We both have to consider how you would feel about that."
"Yes, I understand," she said. "But I... would I be stronger? Do the women become as strong as the men?"
"You would be stronger than any human. But your strength compared to other vampires would depend on your size compared to them, and your age."
Nyota nodded, and sat quiet - thoughtful. She would like to be strong. She was already a strong woman, but still, there were those who were larger and stronger than she, like the man who had attacked her tonight, who had lifted her easily despite her violent struggling. How wonderful it would be, never to have to depend on anyone to save her from such people again. But at the same time, Jim had said that she would be stronger than any human. Meaning that she would no longer be human herself.
"Listen," he said, touching her arm. She looked at him. "If you want to change, I will change you. I... care very deeply for you, and I would be happy to have you as my charge, to stay with me permanently. Think carefully, and when you make your mind up, you can tell me, and I will accept whatever you decide. How does that sound?"
"It sounds perfect," she said.
From that day forward, Nyota stayed at Jim's side every night, throughout the entire night. Akim drove them to town as usual, for their evening business. But whereas Jim used to go out on his own in the deep night, after he revealed himself to her, he took her with him on these nocturnal journeys Nyota discovered that this was when he went out to hunt. He dressed in coal black, and he had pants, shirt and jacket made in the same color for her. He left the carriage behind, and took one horse, with Nyota riding behind him, to a town far from their own, but never visiting the same town twice in a row. Leaving the horse to graze a few miles from town, he would take the rest of the road on foot, slowing as he approached the more populous places. If a man wandered near them alone, Jim would stalk him slowly, telling Nyota to wait where she was and remain completely silent. Then he would leave her, practically disappearing into the darkness. She would not see him again until he stood behind the stranger, closed a hand around the man's mouth, and clamped his teeth down on the man's neck.
The sight frightened and nauseated her at first, but she tried to get used to it, since she was considering becoming like him one day. He seemed to kill without discrimination. He would kill a woman walking alone as casually as a man, though he did tend to favor men who were drunk or otherwise impaired. If no one strayed near them, he would enter the town, leaving Nyota behind, since a female slave wearing fine men's clothes would attract too much attention. Eventually, he would return, either alone and satiated, or with a fully and completely drunk man in his company, who would soon end up drained and dropped into the bushes, while Jim and Nyota sped away on his horse.
Jim only hunted two to three times per week, and he explained that if he ever went into town to find someone, he picked someone who seemed to be a stranger to the town, so that he would be less likely to cause a panic. It was much more difficult to hunt in towns where the people were in a panic about a serial killer, and law enforcement was more likely to cover up an unusual death of a stranger than that of someone well-known to the community.
On the nights when he didn't hunt, he usually spent the night tutoring Akim with Nyota, teaching him the many subjects that Jim had taught Nyota. And when the dawn approached, he showed Nyota where he slept, and invited her to remain with him through the day.
One of the outbuildings on the far side of his property was a small bedroom, with a bed as comfortable and lush as the beds in the main house. The difference was that the heavy curtains were pitch black, and the windows were painted black and covered with heavy oak shutters. Any potential cracks in the doors were sealed with dark heavy cloth, so that when they were closed inside, the room was completely and totally sealed. He lay down in the bed, told her "good day", and then shut his eyes. She couldn't tell when the sun rose by looking about her, because not even the tiniest sliver of light came in from the outside. He had left her with a small candle, and by its light, she saw him grow completely and totally still.
His chest didn't move with breath as it did while he was awake, and there was not the slightest flutter of movement from his body. It was as if he were truly dead, and the sight chilled her the first time she saw it. She was so alarmed by the sight, that first day, that when sundown came and he stirred and sat up, she flung her arms around him and cried into his chest, so relieved was she that he wasn't really gone. He had held her and kissed her, and reassured her that everything was okay. Gradually, as she spent more time with him, she grew more comfortable with the change in him while he slumbered, and she even began laying down to sleep beside him through the day, rather than sleeping on the small cot that he brought for her comfort.
It was on an evening where there was to be no hunt, that the disaster came. Jim and Nyota emerged from his place of slumber at dusk, and they rode together back to the house. But the moment they arrived at the house, Nyota knew something was wrong. The door of the house was open, but Akim was not on the porch waving hello, or working in the garden when they arrived. Jim pulled the horse to a halt, and dropped down, helping Nyota to the ground. He walked slowly toward the house, moving as he did when he was on the hunt (when she could see him before he disappeared into the shadows). She followed him slowly, halting when he raised a hand to her. She stood at the bottom of the porch, waiting. Suddenly, she heard a wail from him - a horrible cry of despair. She felt her heart stop, and she ran full speed up the stairs and into the house.
She could hear what sounded like someone crying coming from the left side of the house, and she followed the sound to the library, running to see if Jim needed her help. She stopped abruptly when she got to the threshold, and a scream burst forth. Hanging from the crossbeams were the still, bruised, grotesque bodies of Akim and Mary. A white sheet of paper was pinned to the lapel of Akim's coat that read, "disrespected his betters".
Nyota felt her heart pounding fast, and her ears ringing. The sound of sobbing broke through the sound of her own panicked thoughts, and she tore her eyes away from the horrific sight. It wasn't Jim, but Mr. Welby who was crying. He was tied hands and feet to the heaviest desk in the room. It seemed he had been badly beaten as well, and he was shaking with emotion. She looked for Jim, and saw him a few feet in front of her, in the center of the room, staring up at the bodies - his own body completely still.
Nyota stepped into the room, and Jim whirled to face her, his features an angry snarl, his eyes red with tears. He relaxed when he saw her, then noticed Mr. Welby for what seemed like the first time. He walked over to the man and knelt behind him. With his bare hands, he ripped the ropes apart and pulled them off, then helped Welby to stand up. The man looked at Jim's face and began to sob again. "I'm sorry, sir, I'm so sorry! I t-tried to stop them, I..."
"Who did it?" Jim asked.
"Fi... yes five of them. Ed Wallace led them, but there was Jacob Olsen, Will... Will Cane, and..." He looked up toward the bodies, and started to break down again.
Jim shook him. "Who else, John," he asked. "Talk, tell me who else was here!"
"Kingman. Dan Kingman and his brother, the... other... Dave. It was... they were looking for you, they wanted... they were accusing you of murdering that man, the stranger who disappeared a few weeks ago. When Akim told them you'd be back in a few hours, and that you weren't a murderer, they just... they attacked him! And when Mary tried to stop them, they started beating her, too. I... I tried to... s-stop them Mr. Kirk, but they..."
"Don't worry about that, John," he said. "I know you tried. Where did they say they were going?"
John shook his head. "Back to town, or... I... I don't know, s-sir, I..."
Jim stood up suddenly. "Get out of here. Get out, and get a drink from the kitchen. Nyota, you go, too."
Jim looked at her, eyes narrowed. "Go," he said again. "Get him some whiskey, while I take care of..."
"Yes, Jim," she said softly. She helped Mr. Welby to his feet, and guided him to the kitchen. The man trembled and continued to sob quietly, and Nyota helped him to a seat and found a bottle of whiskey for him. She poured him a full tumbler, and he took it down in large gulps. Slowly, his nerves seemed to get better, and he looked at her with a shaky smile.
"Thank you, Nyota," he said.
"You're welcome, Mr. Welby."
"I... I'm... so sorry, I-"
"Shhh. It's not your fault. Five against one, you couldn't have done more than what you did. Don't worry, Mr. Kirk will-"
At that moment, Jim came into the room. His eyes were cold, and there was blood on his sleeves. "John," he said, his voice heavy. "Close my affairs. Arrange for their burial, with marked graves. Take five thousand for yourself, give five thousand to the Caldwells, and wire the rest to my account."
John stood up. "Yes, Mr. Kirk," he said. "I..."
Jim extended his hand. "It's been a pleasure knowing you, John."
John shook his hand. "Likewise, sir. I'm... sorry for your loss."
Jim released his hand with a nod, then turned to Nyota. "Come with me."
He turned and walked out of the house. Nyota followed, and they mounted his horse. Jim turned him to the road, drove him to a fast gallop and raced toward town. Nyota held onto him and pressed her face into his back, weeping as the sight of her friends' broken bodies flashed back into her mind. As if in response to her grief, Jim urged the horse on even faster, not letting up until they arrived in town. The two of them dismounted, and Jim looked around him at the few people still on the streets. A few people whispered to each other when he saw them, but they walked quickly away. Nyota was surprised when a young man approached them, a slave that she recognized as belonging to Wallace.
The man ducked his head at Jim, then glanced at Nyota briefly. "Excuse me, Mr. Kirk, sir. I..." He looked toward the bar half a block away. "I heard my master and some men talking about something and..." The man looked uncomfortably at Nyota, almost as if he were trying to keep from shedding tears. "I hope it isn't true, sir."
Jim frowned. "It's true, Daniel," he said. "Where are they?"
The young man sighed heavily, and looked over his shoulder, but didn't point. "At the bar, sir. All of them."
Without another word, Jim strode to the bar, moving at a human speed, but so quickly that Nyota had to run to keep up with him. He kicked the door, and it broke completely off his hinges. The laughter and talking that Nyota had heard from inside stopped immediately. Jim stepped across the threshold and glared at the bar area. Nyota stood a few inches behind him, not caring that Blacks were not allowed in the bar. The way Jim looked, the way his rage radiated from him, she knew no one would dare to speak to her.
All eyes were turned to him, and Nyota saw the five men John had accused of killing Akim and Mary. They looked slightly nervous, probably wondering how he had broken the door so violently, and probably seeing the look in his eyes that Nyota had now grown accustomed to. One of the Kingman brothers was the first to find his voice. "Look who's here," he said loudly. "Left a present for you at home, Kirk."
There were a few nervous chuckles, but they stopped almost immediately. In the time it took Nyota to hear the man's words and scowl with rage, Jim had crossed the room, flinging chairs and tables out of his path so fast that Nyota never saw him touch them. The men in the bar cried out in shock and began to back away. Jim grabbed Kingman by the throat and slowed his movements enough so that human eyes could see him. Still, he seemed to move at lightning speed when he twisted Kingman's head, breaking his neck and killing him instantly. There were more shocked outcries, and the other Kingman brother grabbed Jim's arm. Jim punched him in the throat so hard that Nyota heard bones crack, and the man began to choke.
Jim turned to the remaining three men before Kingman's flailing body reached the floor. They looked gray in the face, but Jacob Olsen cracked his beer bottle on the bar, and brandished it at Jim. Before Nyota could take a breath, the broken bottle was protruding from Olsen's throat. There were more screams, and several of the onlookers scrambled to get out of the bar. Will Cane and Ed Wallace tried to escape, too, but Jim caught Cane and snapped his neck. Wallace was next, and Jim grabbed him and glared at him, holding him face to face. Wallace trembled and cried, and pleaded with Jim. "For the l-love of God, n-no, no!"
"Did Mary beg you not to kill her son?" he asked. "Did Akim beg you not to kill her?" The man shook and stammered sounds that made no sense. "Maybe I should leave you, and take Bobby instead. An innocent life for an innocent life."
"No!" he screamed. "No, don't hurt my son, God, please, ple-"
"I thought not." With that, he squeezed his hands around Wallace's throat, choking him to death.
He dropped Wallace's body to the ground and looked around. Besides Nyota, there were three men left in the room, who'd been too slow to get out, and were now frozen in terror. Jim raced to one of them at super-human speed. Jim lifted the man by his collar, and the man raised his shaking hands in supplication. "Dear God Almighty, please," he whispered. "Please don't-"
"Shut up!" The man gritted his teeth. "If anyone in this town ever lynches an innocent person - man, woman, or child - again, I will come back here and kill every single person in the entire town, whether they had a hand in it or not. Man, woman and child. Do you understand me?" The man nodded vigorously. "Make sure everyone else understands," he said, then let the man go.
Jim turned to Nyota, the only person in the room (besides Jim) who was still on her feet. He looked mildly concerned, very like the way he looked when he'd killed the drunken intruder weeks ago - as if he was worried she would be afraid of him after his rampage. Jim's clothes were covered in splashes of blood from the men he'd killed, and his hands were bright red. The horrifying bodies of his victims lay sprawled behind him. Weeks ago, she might have been terrified and disgusted, but right now she felt nothing but pride. She smiled at him. He smiled back, and extended his arm to her. She took it, and walked with him out of the bar and onto the street.
A crowd of people had gathered near the open door, but the moment Nyota and Jim walked out, they skittered back like reeds in a strong wind. Jim paid them no mind. He placed his hand over hers and walked her back to their horse. They rode back to Jim's property, but he avoided the house and took them to his sleeping place. He kept a store of water there, and a few other personal items. He washed the blood from his body and changed out of his blood-soaked clothes.
When he was clean and dressed in fresh clothes, he sat down on the bed and took a deep breath. He looked at her. "How do you feel?"
"Good," she said. "Very good, Jim." He gave her a bemused smile. She sat beside him, wrapped her arms around him, and kissed him.
He kissed her back, holding her close. He stroked her hair and looked into her eyes. "Aren't you upset by what you saw?"
"Jim, I've seen you hunt many times."
"But that was for survival," he said. "This was-"
"Justice," Nyota finished for him. "It was justice, Jim. I've never seen anything like it before." He smiled and kissed her again, and she gripped his shoulders and held him to her. When they finally broke the kiss, Nyota stared into his eyes. "I've made my decision, Jim," she told him.
She smiled. "About becoming like you."
"Oh, of course," he said, smiling back at her. "Well? What did you decide?"
"I want you to turn me. I want to stay with you forever, and I want to have the power to... to do what you did back there."
"It's not always good to do what I did," he warned. "It can be dangerous to show yourself as I did. You-"
"I understand, Jim," she said. "I'll be guided by you, you'll teach me how to be safe." She thought about the house and what they had lost, and she felt a pang of sadness. "There's nothing for us here anymore, and I want to be with you when you move on. I want to stay with you wherever you go, always."
Jim smiled at her and kissed her again. "Alright, Nyota," he said. "I'm so pleased that you've decided to stay with me. Now. It's going to feel strange, and it'll be a little scary, but trust me. Everything will be fine, and when it's over, you'll be one of us. We'll stay together forever."
Nyota nodded. "I trust you," she said. Jim kissed her, and tilted her head back, giving her small kisses down her chin and onto her neck. She clutched his arms, suddenly nervous, and a second later he sank his teeth into her neck and began to drain her.
Within an hour, after a truly strange and uncomfortable series of changes, Nyota sat up and looked at Jim with new eyes. She smiled. "Thank you, Jim. Thank you."
Jim smiled. "Welcome to a new world."