Author Elizabeth Lane
by Elizabeth Lane
Excerpt from "Shawnee Bride"
The Valley of the Ohio, 1747
Seth Johnson bolted through the underbrush, terror fueling the strength of his eleven-year-old legs. Brambles clawed at his threadbare clothes. Roots and vines clutched at his ankles. His heart hammered in anguished fire bursts as he ran.
Behind him, the silence of the forest was even more terrible than his father’s screams had been. Pa would be dead by now, God willing, and even if he wasn’t, there was nothing that could be done for him.
The marauding black bear had come out of nowhere, jumping Benjamin Johnson as he crouched to reset one of his beaver traps. Seth had flung sticks and rocks and screamed himself hoarse in a frantic effort to distract the monster, but none of his boyish racket had been of any use. In the end, he had been left with no choice except to run for his life.
Was the bear coming after him now? If he paused to listen, would he hear it crashing through the undergrowth as its great black nose smelled out his trail? Seth could not risk stopping to find out A charging bear, bent on killing, could run down the fastest man alive.
His bare feet, already large and rawhide tough, splashed into a shallow creek. He plunged upstream, praying the water would carry away his scent. His lungs burned. His breath burst out in labored gasps as he toiled uphill against the icy current.
Seth stifled a cry as his left foot slipped on a mossy stone, wrenching the ankle. Pain lanced his leg-a sharper pain, even, than the hot, flat sting Pa’s belt had caused last night when Seth had dropped a jug of whiskey into the river. For what it was worth, at least Pa would never beat him again.
Grimacing, Seth stumbled out of the water, crumpled against the overhung bank and curled there like a clenched fist. He could not see or hear the bear. All the same, he felt the hair prickle on the back of his neck, a sure sign that danger was close by, and he knew there was nothing he could do.
Helpless, he shrank deeper into the shadow of the high bank. “Pa!” he wanted to shout. “I’m here, Pa! Come and help me!” But he knew it would be no use.
He was alone in a thousand square miles of wilderness. Worse than alone. This was Shawnee territory, his father had told him. The Shawnee were savages who would just as soon cut out a white man’s innards and roast him alive as look at him. Better the bear than the Shawnee. At least a bear would kill him swiftly.
The way it had killed Pa.
The silence around him had taken on a dark weight of its own. The birds were quiet. Even the insects had stopped buzzing. A drop of sweat trickled along Seth’s collarbone, cool against his hot flesh, as he waited.
He heard a sudden dry rustling sound. Then something leaped off the bank, landing almost on top of him. Seth glimpsed a flash of bare brown legs and beaded moccasins. Then a rough, smelly blanket enfolded him, cutting off breath and sight. Powerful arms lifted him high. Wild with fear, he kicked, squirmed and punched the stifling darkness, mouthing every curse he had ever heard Pa utter. “Turn me loose, you filthy savage!” he screamed. “Let me go, or, so help me, I’ll have your hide!”
It was then that Seth heard, through the blanket, a sound that sent a shiver all the way to the marrow of his bones.
The sound was laughter.