Recruits (Keeper of the Water Book 2)

RECRUITS

Keeper of the Water series: Part Two

By: Kevin George

 

This is a work of fiction. All stories are products of the author’s imagination, not to be construed as real. Copyright 2012.

CHAPTER ONE

Timing is everything in life. And mine just happens to be terrible.

“Gray van, pull over
now
!” echoes the voice of authority speeding behind me. I barely hear it over the sound of rushing wind. “Young lady, get back inside the vehicle now or we
will
open fire!”

Celeste drives the tour van like a wild woman, pushing it so hard that the engine whines with protest. We speed down the highway – at least as much as the van
can
speed – weaving in and out of traffic. It’s not the first high-speed chase I’ve been involved in today but this time it’s the police chasing us instead of John’s soldiers.

Ponce de Leon’s soldiers
, I remind myself. I allow the thought of John to enter my mind for only a split second and it almost leads to catastrophe. I lose my balance just long enough to fall out of my open door. Somehow I manage to hook my arms through the open window frame and stop my body from plunging to the speeding pavement below. My feet dangle inches from the street but Celeste doesn’t ease off the gas.

“Focus on what you’re doing, Nia!” she yells. “You have to stop those cops from getting us or we’ll
never
reach Cassie!”

As we speed around a tractor-trailer – the police car still hot on our tail – the van’s passenger door clips the side of the monstrous truck. The impact nearly jars my grip loose but it also slams the door closed and shoots me back into my seat. I barely have time to catch my breath and get over the shock of still being alive.

“Will you stop messing around already?” Celeste barks at me.

At one time, the woman driving the van was Cleopatra, the most famous queen in the history of the world. That information is still new to me but when she barks orders like this and glares at me with dark fiery eyes, I can
totally
see how she once held such a powerful position.

My heart pounds as we continue to race along a highway in the Pocono Mountains. This place has been our home for the last several months but I doubt that will remain the case after today. Running from the police usually makes you unwanted in the community, not to mention what I’m about to do to get the cops off our back. I take another deep breath before pushing open the van’s passenger door again. Ignoring the speeding pavement a foot beneath me, I climb out of the van, draping my legs through the open window, precariously balancing my body as the wind tries to push me off. It’s not an ideal position and if we hit a pothole I’ll probably be knocked from my perch and fall to a gruesome death. But I’m growing more accustomed to putting myself in life-or-death situations and don’t give the danger a second thought. I
do,
however, give a second thought to what Celeste wants me to do.

It hasn’t even been an hour since Celeste confirmed that I
am
an Amazon, that I must do whatever it takes to protect the Keeper and the precious water of life. Apparently, that water is in jeopardy since Cassie has been kidnapped. I tracked the kidnapper’s trail to the main highway but found only tire tracks heading away. Celeste and I sprinted back home, grabbed our bows and jumped into the van. Before we sped away, I told Mom where to find our other tour vehicle – a jeep – parked a mile away in the woods. She was already packing our most important belongings, anticipating that we wouldn’t be staying here much longer.

It didn’t take long to prove her right.

Mom promised to catch up with us as Celeste and I raced off, bumping down our long dirt driveway, sharply cutting the wheel once we reached the main road. Old tour vans
aren’t
made for drifting and it felt like we might tip over. Somehow she kept us on four wheels and raced toward the highway, speeding in the direction where we saw the tire tracks heading. The kidnappers had a big head start – at least twenty minutes – and there’s plenty of possibilities where they could be traveling. I was worried we were chasing a ghost and that thought made me sick to my stomach.

Unfortunately, that had been the
only
thing I was feeling.

“The tingling sensation,
you
feel that when there’s danger? Like a warning?” I’d asked Celeste. I still didn’t fully understand everything about being an Amazon.

“Sometimes,” Celeste answered. “Not now.”

“Is that a bad sign?”

“It’s not good.”

She apparently thought the same thing I did: the kidnappers took Cassie too far away for us to sense the danger. Celeste sped up, just in time to fly past a cop parked on the side of the road. The Pocono police force had been at our cabin just hours earlier to help with the garage fire but now they chased after us like we were criminals. Of course
they couldn’t have nabbed the
kidnappers
first!

As soon as the high-speed chase began, I suggested pulling over and telling the police about Cassie’s kidnapping. Maybe their resources would give us a better chance of finding her, I tried telling Celeste. But she merely shook her head and I knew what she was thinking. Pulling over would only leave us farther behind and the police were certain to ask
plenty
of questions we didn’t want to answer.

We are Amazons – we handle our
own
business.

That was when I felt the slightest tingle, little more than the normal vibration beneath my seat from driving so fast. There was another connecting highway just ahead. Despite the blaring sirens behind us and the way we swerved in and out of traffic, I somehow managed to spot the faintest set of familiar tire marks in the road.

“Turn here!” I yelled at Celeste, who followed the order without question.

“Do you feel something?” she asked.

“I… I think so,” I answered, trying to concentrate. I suddenly felt the tingle again. This time it was stronger and stayed with me. “Yes, it’s this way.”

“I
told you
you’re a good tracker,” Celeste said. My feeling of pride lasted only seconds. “Now do something to get rid of those cops.”

I had no idea what she expected me to do until she pointed to my bow. That’s when I decided to open my door and lean out, nearly killing myself in the process as police shouted warnings to me.

So now I sit perched halfway in my window, dangerously jostling around. I let go with my hands and aim my bow at the police car’s front tire. It’s an impossible shot under these conditions but I’m not your average shooter. By no means am I trying to brag but I might be the most skilled person in the world with a bow and arrow. I have no doubt I could make the shot but the better question is if I
should
make the shot. Even the idea of aiming a deadly weapon at the police suddenly makes me a public enemy. But if I actually fire it, there’ll be no turning back.

Celeste feels no such hesitation.

“Shoot already!” she yells. When I don’t release the arrow right away, she tries to give me extra motivation. “If we don’t rescue Cassie, you’ll doom the
whole
world.”

I can see the police officer sitting in the passenger side. He doesn’t appear more than a few years older than me and looks very nervous at the sight of my arrow. But that doesn’t stop him from also leaning out his window, a gun shaking in his hand as he tries to steady it at me.

And
this
is where my timing becomes awful, where I
finally
remember what I want to know at the worse possible moment. It’s like the proverbial lightbulb goes off in my mind as the doorway to my lost memories is thrown open and I remember my past.

More specifically, I remember my real identity.

CHAPTER TWO

Dangling from a speeding van, aiming my bow for an impossible shot, a police officer pointing his gun at me – three things I should probably concentrate on, right? But I don’t, at least not for a split second. But that’s all the time my mind needs to remember who I am…

I’m in the forest again but this time I’m young, even younger than I am now, maybe sixteen or seventeen. But it’s the
first
time I’m that age. I feel more mature than I do now, heavy with a life of burden. As an Amazon, the burden of responsibility is nothing new but back then I feel powerless, weak, unable to make my own decisions. Gone is my strength and self-confidence, replaced with a deep-seeded feeling in my stomach of being trapped.

I am
not
this person anymore.

I’m at the front of a group of men that follow me. It’s not unlike the way I’ve led tours for the ‘Pocono Adventure Guides’ but these men
aren’t
like any of our usual customers.

Most of the men in the back wear similar military uniforms but not the usual camouflage fatigues seen on our soldiers today. These uniforms are old and plain – white pants and shirt, black scarves wrapped around their heads. They appear to be one-size-fits-all: they look huge on some of the men but uncomfortably tight on others. Other men of higher military rank wear deep blue coats and round hats but there aren’t many of these men. All of them carry long muskets that would look more like a toy these days. The uniforms seem laughable to me as I remember them but at the time they were standard issue.

Three men at the front of the group stand out more than the others. Two of them dress similar to the other officers but one carries a handful of maps while the other is more interested in his journal. They have an air of importance to them. The one with the journal looks at me and smiles. His kindness makes me nervous and I look away.

Unfortunately, I make eye contact with the
third
man, who leers at me in a way that makes my skin crawl. It’s not the first time he’s looked at me like this – or done
worse
to me for that matter – and it makes me sick to know it won’t be the last. The mere sight of him makes me feel weak and desperate though I’d
never
admit my true feelings of him to anyone for fear of what he’ll do to me.

I can’t believe I was ever afraid of this man, that I never stood up to him. It’s something I always dreamed about doing but never had the courage. His name was Toussaint Charbonneau, a French trapper who’s a bit too found of drinking and gambling for his own good. He’s tall and thin and the definition of smarmy. If he lived in the 21
st
Century instead of the 19
th
, he probably would’ve ended up a used-car salesman. His skin glistened with perspiration – he was
always
sweating – because he wore a heavy layer of animal pelts during all times of the year. He might’ve appeared foolish and harmless to others but whenever we were alone, he did not restrain his brutality toward me. He knew he could do whatever he wanted to his property, which was how he viewed me.

A Native American guides us through this area of the woods but holds up a hand to stop us. He speaks to me in another language but I somehow understand every word he says. By the time he’s done, I turn back to the two leaders of the traveling party.

“He says he will take us no farther,” I translate for the men. “He says there’s a tribe of women along this path that we would be wise to avoid.”

“A tribe of
women
?” one of the leaders asks. “Are you certain you understood him correctly, Janey?”

I smile at the nickname this man has given me. The only nicknames Toussaint calls me make me blush and wish I didn’t understand French. I ask our Native guide to repeat himself.

“Yes, Mr. Clark, he says it is a tribe of women but they are not of this land,” I say, my timid voice not much louder than a whisper.

“Then what land
are
they from?” Clark asks.

I ask the guide, who’s been leading us for several days. He wears one of Toussaint’s old fox furs around his shoulder, payment for his services. It’s clear that the animal wasn’t properly skinned, its fur shaggy and shedding. The Native whispers, nervously glancing around as if waiting for a ghost – or a whole tribe of them – to jump out at us. When he’s done, I turn back to Mr. Clark.

“He says the women are all different colors – some whiter than you, some darker than me. He also says they practice dark magic, that they move unlike any man he’s ever seen,” I explain. “The women do not attack unless provoked or unless someone gets too close to their spring of magic water.”

“Fascinating,” Clark says as he begins to scribble in his journal.

“Enough already, William. Are you going to jot down every Indian ghost story we here?” his partner asks.

Clark sighs with disappointment and puts away his quill. “You’re right, Meriwether.”

The other leader, Mr. Lewis, turns to our guide. He speaks directly to the man even though I must translate. Mr. Lewis might not be cruel to me like my husband Toussaint, but he never looks at me, never treats me like a human the way Mr. Clark does.

“Is there any way around this
magic
tribe without causing problems? We just want safe passage, not a fight, even though they’d be foolish to challenge my soldiers and their weapons,” Lewis says.

I translate this question to our guide, who warns me of the dangers ahead, warns me not to continue traveling with the foolish white men. He asks why I’ve come with them this far and I explain how Toussaint is my husband, how he won me while gambling with a group of men who kidnapped me from my real home. The guide is disgusted to hear this and tells me if I ever want to run away from the white men, my baby and I will have a place among his people. It is a very tempting offer. But as much as Toussaint may
seem
to hate me when he beats me, a part of him is obsessed with me. I see the way he becomes enraged whenever Mr. Clark is kind to me – if it wasn’t for the money he was being paid, Toussaint never would’ve let me around so many other men.

If I ever tried to leave him, I have no doubt he’d track me down and kill me. Death is the only way out of this horrific marriage. The only thing that keeps me going is the tiny bundle of joy strapped to my back.

The guide tells me that the only way around our current path will cause a delay of several days. I pass along this information to Lewis and Clark, both of whom appear very upset by the news. My husband senses misery and finally takes some interest in what’s going on.


Jeune fille, ce qui la rouge homme dire
?” Toussaint asks in his high-pitched voice.

Because my husband speaks French only, it takes me several minutes to explain the situation and what our guide told me (obviously I leave out the part about the offer to join his tribe). During this time, Mr. Lewis grows more perturbed at the idea of losing precious time on their expedition. Toussaint gives me a message to translate to Lewis and Clark. I hesitate until he snaps at me – the next time we’re alone, I’m certain he’ll make me regret not following his orders quicker.

“My husband would like to know if you want to avoid a lengthy detour.”

“Of course,” Lewis answers immediately. He doesn’t look nearly as skeptical – or worried – as his partner about my husband’s sudden interest.

“He says there is possibly a way to deal with this tribe
without
putting any of you in danger. But his price for our guide services will go up,” I say.

Lewis and Clark are former soldiers and proper gentlemen. I do not expect them to take kindly to my husband’s strong-arm tactics, his attempts to alter the deal that’s been in place for months. But Mr. Lewis is a man desperate for success. He sneers in anger at my husband but agrees to the new prices without consulting Mr. Clark.

Toussaint smiles but Mr. Clark looks at me with concern.

“And how will your husband do this?” Mr. Clark asks.


He
won’t,” I say, trying to hide the fear in my voice. I’m sure my attempt was unsuccessful. “
I
will go ahead and talk to the dangerous women.”


Vous allez maintenant, fille
,” Toussaint says, ordering me to move ahead. Apparently any feelings he has for me – perverse and twisted as they may be – pale in comparison to his love of money. I guess he’s going to need more money for booze and to gamble with if he expects to win more young girls to turn into wives.

“Oui,” I answer.

There’s no getting out of this so I hope Toussaint will at least let me leave our baby, Jean-Baptiste, with him. But the baby is sleeping soundly, the only time Toussaint can seem to stand him. I want my newborn son to be safe but if the worst happens to me, I
don’t
want him being stuck forever with such a cruel man. On second thought, it’s better he comes with me.

“Wait, Janey,” Mr. Clark says to me. “Are you
sure
you want to do this?”

I look back at Toussaint, who glares angrily at me and waves his hand forward. If I don’t listen to him soon, I’ll be in more trouble with
him
than any danger I’m about to face.

“It is my job, Mr. Clark,” I say. “It will be okay.”

“Do you want me to go, too?” he asks. As tempting as the offer is, there’s no way I can accept it so I shake my head. “Then just… just be careful.”

Clark holds out a weapon for me, an old bow he received in a trade with a native villager a few weeks back. Toussaint won’t like me accepting it but Mr. Clark won’t let me go unless I take it. Without looking back at my husband, I accept the bow. It’s the first time I’ve ever held a weapon.

I rush forward along the path, moving quickly and quietly. One talent I’ve always had is the ability to move without a sound, though I hope my pounding heartbeat doesn’t make me too easy to hear. Every shadow of sunlight that dances through the leaves makes me stop and hold my breath, every normal forest noise I’ve heard countless times in the past suddenly sounds ominous. I raise the bow but don’t know how to properly hold it. I’m sure I look as dangerous as a butterfly.

A twig
snaps
just ahead. How can my pulse race like crazy even though my heart feels like it stopped? I try to tell myself that the noise was nothing but then another twig
snaps
and a cluster of leaves
rustles
. Someone is out there and getting much closer. For a few breathless seconds, my feet feel frozen to the ground and I’m convinced the magic women know I’m here, that they’ve put a spell on me. But fear is my only malady and once I push that aside, my legs start to work again.

I hurry behind a thicket of trees, still careful not to jostle too much for fear of waking my baby. The last thing I need is for Jean-Baptiste to wake up and start crying to make us an even bigger target. I peek around the tree and listen as the approaching footsteps grow louder. I can
feel
vibrations beneath my feet. Our native guide said the women were magic but he
never
mentioned they were huge, which they must be to make this sort of noise. Toussaint ordered me to negotiate safe passage with these women but if they’re truly as monstrous as I imagine them to be, maybe I
would
be better off trying to escape…

I spot movement through the trees and hold my breath. I duck back behind the trees to avoid being spotted until I hear a grunting noise up ahead. My courage finally builds enough to steal a glance around the tree. I begin to laugh, more a release of tension than seeing something humorous. The large buck standing in the path lazily turns its head toward me. The animal is huge and muscular and
could
be dangerous if provoked but I’m not concerned. I’ve always been good around animals, calm, which in turn helps keep them calm. The buck’s eyes lock with mine for a moment before it lumbers off through the woods.

I sigh in relief but that doesn’t last long.

“Bucks can be dangerous if they charge, you know.”

My heart nearly leaps out of my throat at the sound of a voice
right
behind me. I spin around so fast that I feel the baby bundle shift on my back – I know Jean won’t stay sleeping for long.

Behind me are two women, both of them tall but not nearly as enormous as I expected. They both carry weapons – one a long spear three feet longer than her body, the other a short blade in each hand – but they stand very casually, leaning against nearby trees like they were simply out for a stroll. The one with the spear is very pale, her hair cropped short. The woman with the twin blades is deeply tanned, her hair pulled high up on her head. Both wear clothes so old and ripped that they look like threads hanging off their bodies, showing more skin than most tribal women I know. Their bodies are trim and hard, lean muscles lining their arms and legs. I can’t believe I didn’t hear either one of them approach.

I back away and nearly trip. Though they show no signs of aggression, I don’t feel comfortable at the sight of their weapons. I’m pretty sure I spot a blood stain on the tip of the spear. This isn’t the time to be slow on the draw so I immediately aim my bow at them and try to keep my hands steady.

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