The Dividing Tide – Episode 12

Thomas trod carefully, but the leaves on the woodland floor were tinder dry after a summer of drought and they crackled beneath his boots.

He had been hoping for sight of a black bear or a bobcat, for the animals of the mountains never failed to thrill him, but he was making far too much noise.

The previous summer had been the driest he’d known since arriving in Georgia. All the rivers and streams had shrunk to a trickle, and there was even talk that the Cherokees would have to make the enforced journey to the plains by land instead of by river.

He hoped for their sakes that that wouldn’t happen. It would be a long and cruel journey with winter approaching.

He shook his head. It disquieted him when he thought of the way the tribespeople were being treated. Already the stockades were filling up prior to their eviction.

It wasn’t right, he thought angrily. This had been their land for generations! He shuddered. How would the young and the elderly fare on such a journey?

The cold nipped his nose and cheeks as he tracked through the forest. As he wandered, his thoughts wandered, too, and he mulled over his plans for the journey back to England.

What changes would he find when he got there? Would his mother welcome him after all this time?

Would Jenna even recognise him? A sense of unease engulfed him.

As he neared Claw Creek, his mind slipped to the Cherokee woman he’d seen there. He’d passed her a few times since then, but she had always kept her gaze averted, shyly refusing to return his smile.

Then, as if the very act of thinking of her had conjured her up, there she was, sitting on a fallen log at the edge of the forest, her dark head bent.

He slowed, for he didn’t want to startle her. There was something about the slump of her shoulders that made him think something was wrong.

She must have sensed him there, because she looked up and then he knew he’d been right. Her face was twisted in pain. He moved towards her.

“Morning, ma’am,” he said gently, tipping his hat. “Is everything all right?”

Silently, she shook her head, blushing as a young girl might have done before looking back down at the ground. Her very shyness made Thomas feel protective, and his heart skipped a beat.

“What is it?” he pressed, his concern growing, but still she was silent. “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what it is,” he coaxed.

“My foot is hurt,” she said at last.

Slowly, so as not to frighten her, Thomas stooped down beside her.

“May I see?” he enquired. “My name is Thomas Goss,” he told her, hoping to reassure her. “I work at Red Leaf Gold Mine over the ridge.”

“I know.” Her forehead was lined with pain, but she tried to smile. “There are no secrets in our valley. I am Ahyoka. I live with my grandfather, Kanuna, at Running Water.”

“The cabin by the rapids?” She nodded. “I know it,” he said, bringing to mind the well-built wooden house with its cultivated patch of land that stood just beyond the Cherokee village.

He’d passed it several times since arriving at Riversville, and had been impressed with the well-run look of the place. He’d seen an elderly Native American man working there. Perhaps that was her grandfather?

“Let’s take a look and see what damage you’ve done,” he said, taking her foot in his hands.

Thomas drew off her moccasin, slowly and gently so as not to hurt her. She pressed his hand to stop him, and the unexpected touch of her fingers sent a tremor through him.

“Please, I must warn you. My foot is . . . not as it should be. I was born with it that way. It is always a problem, but sometimes it is worse and gives way.”

So that was why he’d seen her limping. Perhaps it was that which also made her so shy?

He smiled to reassure her and carefully slipped off her moccasin. He was not shocked by what he saw. He felt sympathy for her, for her foot was indeed malformed, the arch far too high and the whole foot turned out.

But it was the angry swelling around the ankle that concerned him.

“Can you move your toes?” he asked, watching as she managed to wiggle them. “Good. It’s probably just a bad twist. You can’t walk on it, though.” He stood up. “Stay there. I won’t be a minute.”

He went to the trees, choosing a strong bough with a Y shape where it branched, which he sawed off with his jack-knife. Then he helped her stand and tucked the makeshift crutch under her arm.

“Try that for size.”

She took a few tentative steps, leaning heavily on the crutch to save putting weight on her injured foot then she looked up at Thomas, smiling.

“Thank you.”

She tried to reach down for her basket. He picked it up, looking at the scant freckling of blueberries at the bottom.

“They are Grandfather’s favourite,” she told him. “I was hoping for a final picking before the season ends. He eats too little.” Shyly, she held out her hand for her basket and her moccasin. “Thank you for helping me.”

Thomas held on to them.

“I’ll carry them. You’ve got enough to do managing my handiwork,” he said as she took another tentative step forwards.

They talked as they made their way out of the forest and up the valley. They reached the clearing at Running Water.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.