Chapter 13: The Stole-Away
Shaking her finger, Wendy dropped the porcupine needle hopelessly on the ground. Sucking on the wound, the girl looked exasperatedly at her dress, half mended and sloppily at that. It would never do. Frustrated, Wendy proceeded to unravel the uneven stitch.
"You are very bad at that."
Wendy looked up.
Tigerlily had not spoken a word all day. Not that Wendy had been especially keen on conversation, but the Indian Princess had been purposefully inhospitable. Doing everything in her power to make the girl uncomfortable, Tigerlily sat with Wendy facing her back, ignored questions, ate without offering, and gossiped conspicuously about the girl in a language Wendy did not understand.
Therefore, when Tigerlily at last spoke, the derision was not unexpected. Still, it was unappreciated.
Tiered and sore from hunching over the cumbersome porcupine needle all afternoon, Wendy did not try to hide her anger.
"Bad at what? Princess?" she added sardonically.
Lifting up from her arms, Tigerlily swung around her haunches to face the girl. Wendy looked away, embarrassed by Tigerlily's liberal body mechanics.
"Sewing," Tigerlily answered. Cruelly, she pointed at Wendy's miserable attempt to patch her dress. "You are very bad at sewing. You have been poking away since midday. The sun is almost set."
Wendy felt warmth in her cheeks. She couldn't very well argue with Tigerlily. After all, it was an admittedly disgraceful stitch. Picking up the porcupine quill, Wendy twisted the fine leather string through the top hole.
"Well, I am trying."
Tigerlily rolled her eyes. "Fish should not try to fly. Good Goddess! If only Little Flying Eagle could see this! He would eat his words!"
Wendy dropped the quill a second time. Her frustration had peaked at mention of Peter's name. "What does Peter have anything to do with my dreadful sewing?" she asked tartly.
Smirking, Tigerlily hugged her knees. Rocking back and forth, she said, "He tells fibs at the campfire to impress me. The night you came, he said you were…"Tigerlily held up a hand, mocking Peter's chief pose, "'the cleverest of seamstresses.' He said your stitches were so invisibly small, that you sewed his shadow to his toes."
Blowing through her lips, Tigerlily brushed her golden-red fingers across the torn blue fabric, "Cleverest of the seamstresses. Ha. Obviously."
Tigerlily's smile faded when Wendy did not lash out. Instead, Wendy regarded the porcupine quill at her knees. Picking it up, she turned it contemplatively between her fingers.
Wendy spoke quietly, "He said I was…he told you about that?"
Wendy had quite forgotten their first meeting. She smiled, remembering how Peter had imagined soap would stick the silly shadow to his feet. Suggesting that she sew the shadow instead been a gamble, triggered by nervousness and excitement.
Wendy had been delighted when Peter's shadow melted into her hands, slinking over her fingers like silky water as she wove the needle expertly. The successful results had pleased her, but Peter had not acknowledged it. He hadn't even thanked her.
Tigerlily sat up, noticing Wendy's change. Intrigued, the Indian princess said, "It is true? You sewed his shadow?"
"To his feet? Through his skin?"
Again, Wendy nodded. Tracing the porcupine needle softly against her palm, Wendy said, "Needles are much smaller where I come from."
Tigerlily scoffed. But it was not a cruel scoff.
Tigerlily would never pretend to like Wendy—that friendship would grow over time and tragedy. (But again Reader, that story is a long way to come). But perhaps the Indian princess was impressed. Perhaps she underestimated Wendy. Perhaps she was touched Wendy's humility. After all, the pale girl had accepted captivity with the grace of a fallen warrior.
A pang of guilt and understanding hit Tigerlily like an arrow. She had enjoyed flaunting her captive and poking fun at Wendy's expense all day. The village girls sniggered as Wendy lumbered after Tigerlily like a bear cub and used the Indian tools clumsily.
The Indian princess had enjoyed not being the subject of mockery. The daughter of a mighty chief, Tigerlily was respected merely by birthright. But the Indian princess was grudgingly aware of the sneers whispered behind her back.
Wendy had also noticed that Tigerlily was somewhat of an outcast, especially by her peers.
The village girls all looked the same: They wore their hair long and loose, and made it shine with animal fat. Their long legs and sharp shoulders were bare under fringed outfits. Necks, wrists, ankles, and ears were decorated
with colorful beads and delicate shells.
But Tigerlily, much like Wendy herself, was quite distinct. Although she was proud as a peacock, Tigerlily was short. She wore a snow-white jerkin, tethered across her chest with a quiver full of arrows. Her hair was braided tightly, fastened with a plain leather head band, and decorated with a single orange feather.
Wendy thought it strange Princess Tigerlily was not treated like her title deserved. Girls spoke to the princess cordially, but curtly. They twirled their thick hair purposefully in Tigerlily's presence and smiled wickedly when the little princess pulled the end of her braid self-consciously. The braves laughed at Tigerlily, when she tried to enter their wrestling circles, and quickly pinned her to the ground.
Despite her resentment, Wendy had felt sorry for the princess.
Swallowing her pride, Wendy offered Tigerlily the porcupine quill, "Would you…show me? Do you mind?"
Tigerlily regarded her. Carefully, Tigerlily's probed Wendy's face, searching for signs of sarcasm and insincerity. Wendy was struck by the dark eyes, bright and piercing like a hawk's.
Then slowly, Tigerlily accepted the quill.
"Sit still," she instructed, easily threading the large needle, "and do not speak unless I tell you. I must concentrate."
"I said do not speak."
Wendy obliged, straitening her legs as Tigerlily aligned the torn fabric. Quickly, the princess laced the quill through the nightgown. Wendy jumped as the needle pricked her thigh.
Tigerlily looked up. Her face was concerned for a moment before returning, more cautiously, to her work.
"How did this happen?"
Wendy understood the hidden apology. But she did not like the question. Shifting uncomfortably, Wendy drew idly in the dirt. "It was…an accident."
Tigerlily scoffed. "Liar. The tear is too even. Too straight." She pulled the leather thread taut and stared at Wendy expectantly.
Wendy looked away. "A mermaid," she answered quietly.
Tigerlily did not speak. Wendy was stunned when the princess finally muttered, "Father says I cannot hunt them."
Wendy turned. Tigerlily was surprised at the girl's reaction; it was as if Tigerlily had unlocked a secret door Wendy had been trying to open.
"You believe me?"
Tigerlily raised an eyebrow. "I have no reason not to. The mermaids are evil to our females. You are a clumsy stranger in our land. And you are weak. They would attack you like a shark attacks a minnow."
Returning to the nightgown, Tigerlily grumbled, "I cannot understand Little Eagle's attraction to Mermaid Lagoon. The mermaids have drowned many of our daughters…and mothers."
Wendy noticed the bitterness in Tigerlily's voice. Tilting her head she watched Tigerlily knead away a glint at the corner of her eye.
Heart sagging, Wendy reached out a hand. She let it fall as Tigerlily cleared her throat, warningly. Wendy knew she was not to treat the issue further.
"They tried to drown me too." Wendy offered quietly.
Tigerlily frowned, squeezing her eyes shut.
"He…he doesn't believe me."
Tigerlily did not look up, but her hands stopped moving.
"He says that they were just playing." Wendy rubbed her shoulders, but it provided little comfort to the dark memory. "Just teasing."
Tigerlily scoffed. "The mermaids bruised your arms as well?"
Wendy unfolded her arms, noticing for the first time the dark marks smudging the pale skin. Tenderly, she touched the inside of her elbow. "I suppose so."
"Then how did you escape?"
Wendy opened her mouth. "I…well…"
Tigerlily cocked her head. "Long story?"
Wendy gulped, nodding. "Improbable story."
Wendy bit her lip. Tigerlily was friendly with Peter; what if she told? What would Peter say? What would he do? He'd already destroyed the merman's golden comb.
But the teary glint still lingered in Tigerlily's eye. The sadness and anger, Wendy knew, was not directed at her. For some reason, Tigerlily was waiting for the story, hungrily.
So Wendy told her tale. From the second she mentioned the merman, the story gushed forth. Tigerlily listened as Wendy's words spilled out of her mouth. The Indian princess did not interrupt once; the pale girl was a good storyteller.
"It is all such a blur. I can not tell if the merman is real. I tried to find him again by the seaside. But…nothing…" Wendy took a deep breath, "I only wish that I could be sure. Somehow."
Tigerlily considered. "Ask Little Eagle to find him."
Wendy's expression dropped. "Peter…he told me not to speak of the merman. It made him angry. Very angry. He doesn't believe it happened."
Tigerlily looked confused, "Why?"
Wendy looked away. Sighing, she gazed at a group of braves tossing a hard ball with long sticks. She smiled, glimpsing John and Nibs through the tussle. They were a perfect match-what Nibs lacked in strategy he compensated with speed. Subsequently, what John lacked in agility, he compensated with battle tactics.
Tigerlily frowned, frustrated that Wendy was avoiding the question. Her frowned deepened as Black Antler, yielding a lacrosse stick, waved at the girl.
"Well?" demanded Tigerlily, diverting Wendy's attention, "Why? Why does the Little Eagle not believe you? Are you lying?"
Wendy was hurt by the comment. She had prayed that this time someone would finally believe her.
"No." Wendy shook her head sadly, "He thinks that….that the merman is…he doesn't belie….." Wendy trailed off, sighing, "….I'm not sure. Boys talk too little."
Tiger Lily nodded wisely. "So does your brother."
Wendy started, interested in the comment.
Wendy almost smiled as Tigerlily buried her head in her work. Furiously, the princess stabbed the quill through the blue nightgown.
Delicately, Wendy leaned forward, "Did you mean John? Ouch!"
Wendy's knee jerked as the needle bit her skin.
"Good Goddess!" Tigerlily snapped, "I told you to stay still! How am suppose to fix your foolish dress? Why do you wear it so long?"
Wendy lowered her legs, rubbing the pinprick. "I didn't mean—"
"I also told you not to speak."
Wendy distracted herself with the braves game.
Wendy was careful not to look at Tigerlily. Understandingly, she waited for the princess to find her voice.
Tigerlily took a steadying breath, "Your brother…he…he saved me from Skull Rock. He is very brave."
"Yes. He is."
"And…he…he is very handsome."
Wendy nodded. "Yes. He looks like our father."
Coughing to hide her embarrassment, Tigerlily hunched her shoulders over the needle and thread.
Choking through nonchalance, Tigerlily spoke. "The other girls…they think he is handsome. I do not care. He does not speak to me. I do not care."
Wendy smiled. She understood Tigerlily's tone.
Sensitively, Wendy touched Tigerlily's arm. Before the princess could shrug her away, Wendy said gently, "John talks of you often."
Tigerlily tensed. "With other girls?"
Wendy shook her head. "No. But his ears turn pink whenever he says your name."
Tigerlily glanced over at the scuffling braves. The game was closing, but as the princess stared, John suddenly whipped his stick across Black Antler's path. Tigerlily smiled as his top hat tumbled of his head.
Tigerlily straightened her grin as Wendy spoke.
"Tigerlily? Would you like to meet John? Properly?"
Tigerlily glared. Smoothing the nightgown between her fingers, the Princess asked suspiciously, "For what price?"
Wendy smiled. "Price? I would be happy to intro—"
"For what price?" Tigerlily pressed. She had been tricked before and endured too many romantic tragedies to trust the pale girl's word. A bargain was in order. Just to be sure. Just to be safe.
"I know," Tigerlily said. She spoke quickly. The braves were dispatching. Nibs, John, and Black Antler were headed for the two girls. Leaning forward, Tigerlily grabbed Wendy's arm. She pressed a thumb into the bruise.
"You will introduce me to your brother. No tricks."
Wendy's eyes widened, "Tigerlily! I would never tri—"
"—And I will help you find your merman. I will help you escape the camp to search for him. Tonight."
Wendy's attention was undivided. Her heart was pounding. "Tonight? But how? Peter—"
"Never mind the Little Eagle. I will distract him."
Furtively, Tigerlily eyed Black Antler, nearing with the Nibs and John. "You never join the dances, and Little Eagle will not ask you. He knows you do not know how."
Wendy was too hopeful to be offended. "Then?"
Tigerlily stood. "Go to the tall totem pole; with the water serpent carved along the top."
"—Too many questions," hissed the princess. "Just—"
Tigerlily froze. Stiff as a snowflake, her anger melted as John approached, Nibs and Black Antler behind him. Black Antler's gaze intensified as John smiled shyly at the Indian girl.
"Good day…Princess Tigerlily." Sheepishly, John removed his top hat. "Or…good evening, I suppose. Yes, good evening. It is evening, isn't it?"
Tigerlily blinked, her nose blotchy as John's ears.
Nibs caught Wendy's eye. Purposefully, the lost boy glanced at John and silently gagged. Wendy smiled, but shook her head.
"Wendy!" John exclaimed, a little too loudly, "Wendy you missed an awfully first-rate adventure today! First-rate, by Jove!"
Wendy fought hard to hide her disappointment. "Oh? Well…Tigerlily and I have been…visiting."
Black Antler's eyebrows shot up. But John looked intrigued. "Really? How spiffing! You ladies must have had a day, no doubt?"
The question was directed kindly at Tigerlily, who was still struck silent by John's proximity. Either that, or she didn't quite understand John's language.
"We had a lovely day," accepting the hand Black Antler offered, Wendy stood. As she rose, Wendy was reminded that her skirt was mended. Waving it experimentally, Wendy noticed that Tigerlily had sewn a string of tiny beads into the hem. Elated, Wendy smiled at the paralyzed princess.
"Quite a lovely day!" Wendy continued, joining Tigerlily, "As a matter of fact, John, Tigerlily was just telling me how extraordinary your strategies are. She could see it in the game you were playing."
John puffed under his pajamas. "Well, Miss—er Princess Tigerlily—how kind! I…I do read quite a bit now and then you know. The Roman legions, Napoleon, and—"
"—John," whispered Nibbs, driving his boney elbow into the boy's knee, "shut up."
Tigerlily looked to Wendy for translation.
"I think," Wendy said, moving between the two, "that you two should discuss a hunting trip over a dance tonight at the campfire. Tigerlily?"
Wendy could almost hear John's heart racing in circles around them. His large eyes were glued to Tigerlily, who shifted back and forth on her moccasins.
Voice faint, Tigerlily pulled on her braid. "You hunt?"
John brightened. "Quite! I went on fox hunt once with my Father and Uncle!"
Tigerlily glanced sideways at Wendy.
"He'll learn," Wendy answered, "You can tell him the specifics. Tonight."
Smiling at her brother, Wendy added, "John is also a refined dancer."
"I would be honored, Princess Tigerlily," John stammered, sweeping low. Grinning shyly, John adjusted his glasses, "A dance, then? Tonight?"
Tigerlily's jaw slackened. As if it were the biggest risk she would ever take, the Indian princess nodded. She even allowed a small smile to escape. "Then hunting. Tomorrow. But first, tonight."
Yes. Wendy's mind pattered impatiently. Tonight. It could not come soon enough.
Leapfrogs jumped in Wendy's chest each time the dancing Indian's whooped. The fire was bright and the moon was full. Surely, Peter would see that she was missing.
Shivering with thoughts of the repercussions and hopes of seeing her merman, Wendy clenched her fingers. Leaning against the totem pole, she inclined her head against the carved wood. The water serpent stuck a forked tongue at her. Wendy shut her eyes, imagining what the snake would say if it could talk.
Wendy saw nothing at first. Then, from the shadows answered four bright eyes. Wendy held her breath, convinced it was a monster.
The shadows moved. There stood Black Antler. A wolf was by his side.
Wendy gripped the wood behind her back, but Black Antler smiled comfortably.
"He will not hurt you."
Wendy nodded. "He's beautiful. Oh…"
Wendy froze as the obsidian wolf padded forward and licked her fingers.
Black Antler smiled. "He likes you too."
Wendy smiled. It was nice to have a friend. Gingerly, she rubbed the soft, black fur. The wolf closed his eyes, tail thumping. Wendy knelt, increasing her stroke. "What is his name?"
"He's beautiful," Wendy repeated.
"He's a lookout," said Black Antler.
"For Little Flying Eagle."
Wendy stopped, confused. "For…for Peter Pan? Why…" Realization dawned as she looked at Black Antler, fully. The brave was stiff with caution and decked for stealth. A blade was strapped to his thigh and a bow hung from his shoulder.
Black Antler clicked his tongue. Dusk straightened and shook his fur. Like a shadow, the wolf disappeared into the forest.
"Come." Black Antler said, taking Wendy's hand. "We have little time."
"Where are we going?"
Black Antler did not look back as he ducked into the wailing forest.
"To the ocean. To find your merman."
No one saw the three blanket themselves in the dark jungle. No one, save for the water serpent atop the wooden totem pole. As Wendy vanished behind the Indian boy, the serpent's eye glowed like a star. Once it flickered, as if laughing silently to itself. Then, the golden eye blinked and flew off the totem pole. Dancing in the night sky, it headed for the Indian camp.