The last thing Kocoum remembered was being in the forest. He had no intention of hunting or fishing, but the presence of the foreigners was still unnerving. Chief Powhatan had decreed the newcomers be allowed the scant swampy land they took up. It was useless for growing anything so it was little sacrifice. Some of the elders were hopeful that the foreigners could be persuaded to trade away some of their weapons and goods which would increase the prestige of their tribe in the region.
Kocoum was skeptical. It did not escape his notice that the foreigners brought no women with them. Either they intended to take brides from his people or they would in time bring their own pale women from across the sea and breed. The chief and elders had food and fishing nets sent to men, they even allowed the children to laugh and dance around the pathetic campsite. It could not end well. He did not trust these strange men. Who could know them or vouch for them?
That was why when he heard Pocahontas' laugh in the forest he ran swiftly and was horrified but not surprised to find her alone with one of the leaders of the foreign men. She was young, too young to realize the danger she was in. So when the man grabbed Pocahontas by the arm Kocoum had no choice but to attack.
There was a noise, a scream, and then nothing at all.
Kocoum had been wounded before. During hunts and in battle, pain was no stranger to him. He woke hot and disoriented in a longhouse that may or may not have been his own for his eyes were slow to adjust to the dark. Two of their healers were arguing in low voices and a hand was heavy on his brow.
“Sleep,” some stranger said.
So he slept.
In his dreams the weapon killed him. The tiny ball of metal, for that was what was inside when other tribesmen had examined the two they were given as gifts, had gone deep and shredded his heart. He lay bleeding in a shallow puddle with his spirit looking down at its former home.
He woke covered in sweat. A fever was burning through him and with cool detachment Kocoum surmised he very well might die before sunrise. It shamed him to fall from illness rather than in the heat of battle or hunt.
“Drink.” The stranger held a drinking bowl to his lips and Kocoum sipped at the cool water. In the half light of the fire Koocum could now see that the stranger was one of the pale foreign men.
If he could be called a man with such a young face. Kocoum was not confident he could correctly estimate the age of the foreigners for their features were queer and they all seemed to have had much poorer health than the people of his nation. Youth or at the very least naivete were writ all over the face of the stranger, but there was also guilt mixed with relief.
He is the one that shot me, the realization dawned on Kocoum. And yet he tends to me.
Perhaps it was the fever or the plain fact that this young man was no warrior, but curiously Kocoum couldn't summon any enmity towards him. If anything he didn't see why the young man felt guilty. After all Kocoum had every intention of maiming if not killing one of his brethren.
He wanted to pull the young man closer to his side so that he may see his face clearly before he dies, but his limbs felt heavy as stone and he could not raise his hand to beckon the stranger.
“Sleep,” the young man said.
If I sleep now I may never waken, thought Kocoum, but his tongue was as useless as his arms so the sentiment went unvoiced.
“Sleep,” he said again more insistently and stroked Kocoum's hair as though he were a lover or kin.
So he slept, determined to awaken so he might learn the name and history of this stranger-turned-attacker-now-penitent.
Morning came and much to his surprise Kocoum did awaken. Even better his fever had finally broken and he could see clearly the young man who had not left his side.
“You're here,” Kocoum marveled, both at the stranger's presence and that his own voice had returned.
“Yes,” the young man said, heat rising to his cheeks to ruddy his pale face. He fetched a bowl of mush and brought it to Kocoum. “Rest.”
One could not eat lying down and Kocoum was sick of feeling an invalid so he sat up much to the stranger's distress. Now he could properly take inventory of this unlikely caretaker.
The young man had even features and good teeth from what Kocoum could tell. Of course what was most striking was his unusual hair color. Between the morning sun and the remains of the hearth fire Kocoum could see it was a rich red ocher. His build was somewhat slight, but there was strength to him. If he had not possessed a superior weapon there was no chance this young not-warrior could have defeated Kocoum in true battle.
“You try to kill me and now you nurse me,” Kocoum would have laughed if his chest wasn't throbbing with pain. “What strange creature are you? Did your kinsmen know you were so soft-hearted when they sent you away? Come now and tell me about yourself, Red-Hair.”
“I don't understand,” the young man said haltingly in Kocoum's language. Then he spoke more fluidly in his foreign tongue. Kocoum did not need to know that language to know that the young man was speaking words of guilt and remorse. His face told all and Kocoum felt a pang of fondness for this man who showed his heart so openly.
Kocoum shook his head and took the young man's hands into his own. “You did not need to tend to me or help me. I acted according to my honor and you acted in yours from what I see.”
The young man chirped back the word “help,” clearly that was part of his limited vocabulary and nodded brightly while saying something else in his language. Kocoum stroked the young man's face. Up close he could see that his eyes were not black or brown as common folk, but a deep gray of storm clouds or the wing of a heron. The young man briefly shut his eyes and trembled slightly as though he might cry or swoon from the touch.
He ought not think his erstwhile attacker was endearing, but Kocoum knew it was too late to close his heart now. Instead he simply called out to see if any of his tribe were close enough to come and send for the healer.
Ahanu, lover of his fellow hunter Hassun, came into the house smiling. “Ah, you're awake and aware at last mighty Kocoum! How we were frightened for you when Red-Haired To-Mas shot you with that awful fire-stick. Pocahontas explained everything, for she was showing the captain a fox burrow when a snake came by and he grabbed her in fear of a snake attack. Of course that's when you attacked him and I do not blame you for any one of us would have done the same and then Red-Hair here feared for the captain's life and used the fire-stick. But he was sick with regret and grief as soon as you were struck and begged to be let into the village to tend to you and pray for you and the elders were so moved they let him.”
“The chief and elders are convinced the captain meant nothing salacious? He ought not have been alone with any of our children,” Kocoum remarked, never taking his eyes off his caretaker.
“Oh, to be sure there was a lot of hot tempers and debate until it was all sorted out until everyone was at peace. You've been abed a week and a lot has transpired. But the chief himself interrogated the man with your brothers-at-arms and they have concluded it was an unfortunate misunderstanding. We are simply lucky that your wound was shallow and that you survived the fever. Red-Hair prayed and prayed night and day. Of course it is not for I, humble Ahanu, to say if the Great Spirit and the ancestors can understand the prayers of foreigners, but you are here and whole so I think perhaps they understand men's hearts regardless of tongue,” Ahanu ruffled Thomas' hair.
“Perhaps they do,” Kocoum replied. “I heard his voice in my dreams before I saw his face.”
“Help?” Red-Hair asked shyly. He clearly could not follow Ahanu's breezy manner of speaking and was uncertain of his place now that Kocoum was awake.
Ancestors help me, thought Kocoum. He has bewitched me and I find I do not mind.
“Help,” Kocoum replied squeezing the young man's hand.
No man could truly know what the future would bring, but Kocoum was certain they were not done with each other yet.