Sunday, February 14, 2016

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Bridging the Gaps
 
Determining the plot direction of this novel is challenging.  Almost all of what I am writing is fiction, even though the setting and several of the characters and all of the villages I mention are historical.  Roanoke, Dasemunkepeuc, Croatoan, Pomeiooc, Aquascogooc, and Secotan did exist.  Wingina, Granganimeo, and Wanchese were actual Algonquians.  As I have previously written, what we know about these villages and people are scant because the inhabitants left no information about themselves.  Only a few Englishmen wrote about them; what they provided is limited.
 
Therefore, I must start my novel from a specific point in time and bridge two gaps to reach two actual events to end its story.  I coincide Alsoomse and Wanchese’s activities in the fall of 1583 with the death of would-be colonizer Humphrey Gilbert drowned at sea while returning to England from Newfoundland and Sable Island..  The first historical event that I must reach is Wingina’s wounding presumably by Pomouiks (see map -- http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~jmack/algonqin/feest1.htm) but possibly by weroance Piemacum’s Pomeioocs in the spring of 1584.  The second historical event is the arrival of Captains Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe, the contact they and their sailors make with the Algonquian inhabitants, and their departure to England with two natives, Wanchese and Manteo.  Between these two historical events and before the first one --unlike my novel about the beginning of the Revolutionary War – I must invent mostly all of my characters and what they do.
 
I am presently somewhere in the middle of the gap between the novel’s beginning and the first historical event.  My narrative focus throughout will be on the brother and sister characters.  Because character revelation, development, and conflict are essential to fast-paced fiction, I must place both Alsoomse and Wanchese in extraordinary (but plausible) situations.
 
Wanchese goes on a trading mission with his cousin Nootau and two of Wingina’s principal men, Osacan and Andacon.  Their destination is the village Chowanoc, along the Chowan River.  (See map)  Wingina suspects that the upstart Pomeiooc weroance Piemacum, rather than turning over his trading goods to Wingina, has already traded with the mighty Chowanoc confederation mamanatowick Menatonon.  Wingina has sent his four men to confirm this as well as to trade for chunks of quartz and stone to be made into axes, knives, and arrow heads.  Stopping to spend a night on land between two Weapemeoc villages located along the northern shore of Albemarle Sound, they come upon several Weapemeoc hunters.  Wanchese befriends an outcast of the hunter’s group.  He spends the night with the outcast while his three companions sleep in the other hunters’ temporary huts.  The next morning one of the hunters exhibits his scorn for the outcast.  In character, Wanchese retaliates.
 
“We had excellent deer stew, Wanchese.” Osacan extended his right arm. “I would have brought you some but I forgot.”
The hunter whom Osacan had apparently befriended, stooped.  He picked up from the fire pit the end of a branch not incinerated. “We allow him to live here,” he said to the wood, “because he builds canoes. Except for that, he is worthless.” He stared at Etchemin, who was watching them. “Isn’t that right, Useless?!” He hurled the piece of wood. Etchemin stepped to his left. The wood struck the top of the dwelling.
The hunter faced Osacan and Andacon. “He is useless and he is a coward! Watch!” The man strode toward Etchemin, who waited. “Show them I am right!” The hunter reached him. “Tell them you are a coward!”
Etchemin stared past him stiffly.  The hunter slapped him, the sound of palm against cheek distinct.
Etchemin regained his balance, resumed his stance.
“Say it! Say it or defend yourself! No? Then here!” The hunter slapped Ecthemin again.
“That is not necessary!” Andacon declared.
“Let him be!” Osacan responded.
“You see?” The hunter, facing them, grinned. “This is what we live with!”
Andacon motioned toward the river. “We have nothing here we must do. Down to the canoe,” he ordered. He stepped off. Osacan; Nootau, ever silent, looking tense; and Wanchese, red-faced, followed.
“Why don’t you take him with you?!” the hunter shouted. “He can build you canoes!  If you need to warm your hands, slap him!” They heard the third slap.
Wanchese stopped.  He turned, started up the incline.
“Wanchese!” Osacan shouted.
Wanchese heard Anacon’s stern voice. “No!”
He was twenty feet away from the hunter, then ten, then standing in front of him.  
“Ah, the coward has made a friend!” the hunter mocked.
Wanchese grabbed the hunter’s turkey skull feather, pulled it out of its groove, held it in front of the hunter’s astonished face, and broke it in half.  He dropped the two pieces. Locking his eyes on the brave’s face, he waited.
A deep red colored the man’s face. He swore. Wanchese saw the man’s hands, of a sudden, move upward.  Wanchese kneed the hunter’s genitals. He heard sound, distress. The hunter was bent over. Wanchese kneed his forehead. He went down. It was not enough. Wanchese pinned the hunter’s head to the sandy soil with his right foot.
He was breathing fiercely through his nose. He felt the hunter squirming under his foot. He applied greater pressure. The man emitted a plaintive sound.
He was aware suddenly that the others were close by. The thought that he might be attacked occurred to him. If so, he would bring each of them down! “You!” he shouted at the hunter immobilized under his foot. “I will let you up! If you choose to fight, I will kill you!” Three more fierce breaths and he removed his foot.
 
This incident causes the group’s leader, Andacon, to begin to doubt Wanchese’s judgment.  It marks the beginning of a riff between Wanchese and Andacon that I have developed through fifteen chapters and will continue to develop. 
 
I remove Alsoomse from Roanoke soon after Wanchese’s departure for Chowanoc.  Here is the scene that explains why.
 
Granganimeo’s wife Hurit, standing twenty feet away in the village lane, was staring at them. Recognized, she approached.
Weroansqua,” Sokanon greeted.
Instantly, Alsoomse rose. Her left hand covering her mouth, she faced about.
“Sokanon. Alsoomse. You are teaching these children well.” Hurit looked at Wapun and Pules, who were watching her with large eyes. “Is that not so?” she said to them.
“Yes, Weroansqua, they are very good,” Wapun answered.
Pules nodded vigorously.
“I am pleased.” Hurit looked at Alsoomse, then Sokanon. “I have another duty I wish that you perform.”
Sokanon’s eyes flitted.
“I want both of you to accompany me to Croatoan, tomorrow. To serve me. Together with my step-daughter Allawa, and two other young women.”
Alsoomse’s cheekbone skin tingled. Her arms felt the release of adrenaline. She had expected criticism.
“Both of you look surprised.” Her amused smile accentuated her unaffected beauty.
“Weroansqua, we will serve you well,” Sokanon answered.
Hurit nodded. Her face hardened. “You should know that Croatoan’s weroansqua has asked me to attend a meeting she is to have with Piemacum’s important men, believing, we suspect, that Piemacum wants her to submit herself and her people to his authority.”
Alsoomse felt a second surge of adrenaline. Quick to reveal resentment, to exhibit temper, her face burned. The Croatoans were gentle people. Her father Matunaagd had said so, often. For some time now they had been led by a woman; perhaps that explained their unaggressive behavior. A thought occurred to her. “Weroansqua,” she said, “I believe I know her purpose.”
“Which is …?”
“Your presence will answer Pienacum’s question without the weroansqua needing to give it.”
Hurit nodded, an acknowledgment. “You are perceptive. Alsoomse. You are your father and mother’s daughter.” She looked at Alsoomse soberly. “I do have concerns about you.”
Sokanon interrupted. “Will Granganimeo, or Wingina, accompany us?”
Not a perceptive question, cousin, Alsoomse thought, a brief thought, immediately erased by what Hurit might mean about being concerned.
“No, Sokanon. Their presence would cause a fight.” Hurit’s face softened. “I am to go, alone. Men do not normally fight women.”
“We leave … when?”
“Immediately after the casting of tobacco. Several of our men will take us there in two canoes. They will not be men of high station.” For the first time Hurit looked at Nana and Odina. “I will need Machk to be one of them.  Please tell him.”
“I will, Weroansqua,” Nana responded.
Sokanon made a small hand gesture. Hurit raised her eyebrows. “I will need somebody to look after my mother.” Sokanon’s face apologized.
“I am certain one of your friends here will do that.”
Simultaneously, Nana and Odina nodded.
“Then everything is arranged.” Hurit turned, took two steps toward the lane, and stopped. Pivoting, she looked at Alsoomse. “One other matter.” Her eyes examined the length of Alsoomse’s body. “I expect you to show your high station the entire time we are there. That means necklaces, Alsoomse. Bracelets. Beads hanging from your ears. You will be representing this village, not yourself. Do you have them?”
“Yes.”
“I should not have to ask.”
“No.” Here was the expected criticism. She felt the beginning of another burn.
Hurit studied her, too long. The heat had reached Alsoomse’s ears.
“Why do you do this? Are you not proud of your parents’ standing?” Hurit looked at Alsoomse’s legs. “No tatooes, not even on your calves. Your cousin has them” – she pointed – “there, and there, and on her arms. She wears a nice shell necklace. Polished bones hang from her ears. Every day. Why must you be so different?”
She wants to know; I will tell her!
“We are different people.”
“That is obvious.”
“I love my cousin.” Alsoomse’s eyes combated Hurit’s sarcasm. “I respect her for who she is. It is not because she is my cousin or she is the daughter of parents of high station. It is because of who she is.”
“We all judge people that way.”
“I know some who do not. And some people of high station expect to be treated well but do not deserve to be.” She was thinking of Askook, Hurit’s younger brother.
Hurit studied her at length. With her left index finger she touched the outer side of her left breast. Her fingers curled. “Are you saying that people who are leaders, who take the responsibility of looking after the welfare of their followers, should not be treated with respect?” Hurit’s anger was palpable.
“No, Weroansqua, I do not.” She felt the redness of her face. “I am saying that people like me born into high station should have to earn respect, not demand it. I do not want anyone to believe I am such a person. I also believe that people not born of high station who deserve respect should receive it.”
Fists pressed against her hip bones, Hurit regarded her. “You are outspoken in your beliefs.”
“I spoke them because you asked.”
The bottom of her chin rigid, parallel to the ground, Alsoomse maintained eye contact. Peripherally, Odina and Nana were figures of stone.
Hurit’s eyes did not deviate. “You should know, Alsoomse, that there are people in this village, and at Dasemunkepeuc, who believe that you are dangerous. Strong-headed dangerous. My husband has spoken of it. Our priest has spoken of it. You risk punishment, from Kiwasa, from your leaders. I will expect you to keep your thoughts to yourself while we are at Croatoan.  I have … tolerated your independence, until now. I must be certain that you will control it while we are there.” Her eyes bored.  “Your answer?”
She would be truthful, not weak. “I respect you and all of our leaders. I will do nothing to hurt our people.”
“You will wear ornaments that signify your station?”
Alsoomse hesitated. “Yes, Weroansqua, I will.”
 
Alsoomse’s trip to Croatoan begins a journey of conflict, error-commitment, and self-discovery.