Sample Chapter: The Search for Sunlei

Chapter 2:

The Promise Trap


Tyoga knew that he would be away from Trinity Jane and his children for longer than he wished to admit.  With winter setting in, he had spent the previous two days making sure that his family would be would be well provided for in his absence.  All of his Cherokee brothers and sisters who had accompanied Tes Qua across the mountains agreed to stay with Trinity Jane and his children while he was away.  Coyote, Paints His Shirt Red, Dancing Mouse and Morning Sky were anxious to stay in the relative warmth of tidewater Virginia to avoid the frigid cold of the Appalachian winter.  That they were able to help to put Tyoga’s mind at ease while he was away searching for Sunlei was an added charge that they were more than willing to accommodate.  Even absent their generosity, Tyoga had little to worry about.  

Twin Oaks had grown into the largest and most prosperous plantation in colonial America.  Tyoga and Trinity had become so valuable to both the tribes of tidewater Virginia and the representatives of the British Crown that he and his family were protected from harm by both factions with equal devotion.  Tyoga had grown up as a living bridge linking the white settlers of Appalachia with the tribes of the Native American woodland cultures.  Because of the Weathersby’s long-standing relationship with the Ani-Unwiya, Tyoga was fluent in Tsalagie, the language of the Cherokee.   His ability to interpret not only the words, but the actions, of his Native American brothers in a way that made sense to those courageous white settlers stout enough to carve a homestead from the wilds of Appalachia proved invaluable to both worlds.  The legend that grew around Tyoga after his defeat of the mighty commander of the Runion wolves, Wahaya-Wacon, elevated his stature to that of a Da-nawa Ala-tsi (warrior/priest) – unparalleled in courage, wisdom and strength.  His counsel was sought and revered in the lodges of the Cherokee, Delaware, Powhatan and Chickasaw, just as his opinions and judgments were respected in the state houses of Yorktown, Charlestown, Philadelphia and Williamsburg.

Trinity Jane, left for dead in the aftermath of a Shawnee raid that killed her family when she was only eight years old, was raised along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay by a loving family of the Nansemond Clan of the Powhatan nation.  Born of the white world, and schooled by her well-educated parents before their untimely deaths, she was quick to remember the English tongue.  Since nursing Tyoga back to health after his trek across the Appalachians to the tidewater of Virginia, she, too, had become fluently bilingual. Her interpersonal skills that endeared her to all, her negotiating acumen and ability to build consensus were invaluable to the success of the enterprise that Twin Oaks had become.  She was the toast of colonial America; equally comfortable attending the ceremonial dances of the Rappahannock, Chickahominy, Patuxant and Piscataway, as the cotillions held in the grand ballrooms of the most ornate statehouses.  Together, the two possessed the power to make dreams come true, or crumble the grandest schemes with nothing more than the shake of their heads.

Tyoga walked up the marble steps to the front stoop of the main house and paused at the enormous mahogany door.  Placing his right hand on the brass latch and his left palm on the bas-relief carvings he pushed the heavy door open and stepped into the warmth of the foyer.  He saw Trinity Jane standing in the parlor gazing out the bow window at the glorious vista to the west.  The Mattaponi River flowed gently toward the south slicing the marshy meadows of the tidewater like a metallic ribbon of melted ore.  In the distance the majestic Appalachians, cloaked in the nondescript stony brown of the long winter months, towered over the gently rolling piedmont.  Her left hand rested atop the sandy brown head of five-year-old Joshia Thomas, and Rebecca Jane’s tiny hand was folded in her own.

Tyoga walked up slowing behind them and placed his hands on T.J.’s shoulders.  He kissed her on the top of the head, and then squatted down so that he was face to face with young Joshia.

“Come here, Josh,” Tyoga said as he pulled his son from under his mother’s loving hand.

“You take care of things around here for me while I’m away, you understand?” he said.

Joshia nodded and threw his arms around his neck.

“How long will you be away, Papa?” Joshia asked.

“Oh, not long, son,” he replied.  “We’ll be fishin’ together come the trout run.”

“Is Wahaya going with you?”

“Yes.  He’s coming with me.”

“Is Brister staying here with us?”

“Brister is going over the mountains with me and Tes Qua, but he’ll be back in a couple of weeks.”


Pivoting toward Rebecca, he placed both hands around her waist and lifted her to his neck as he stood up.  “Etch ta hey, kamama,” he said speaking Tsalagie to his baby girl.  She had taken to the Native American tongue more readily than her older brother.

“Nun cha hey a-lo adoda?” (Are you going away, papa?)      

“A-ho, kamama.  Est hey lochta n’an sha lo.”  (I won’t be away very long.)

“Lotahey ney-yatta eh alo?” (Are you going hunting?)

“A-ho. Adoda ney-yatta.”  (Yes.  I am going hunting.)

“Okay, papa.  I love you,” Becky replied switching seamlessly to English.

She threw her tiny arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek.

Placing her down on the ground he said, “You two go find Mattie and go play in your rooms.  I want to say good-bye to your mother.”

Joshia and Becky skipped off to their rooms on the opposite side of the house without saying a word.

Trinity melted into Tyoga’s massive chest and locked her hands in the small of his back.  Tyoga loving folded her in his arms, her tiny shoulders disappearing into the expanse of his upper arms.

“Guh gay yu hee, Dhitili,” (I love you) Trinity whispered into Tyoga’s chest.

Tyoga pulled her closer to him, but did not say a word.

She released her clasped hands from the small of his back and slid them onto his chest.  Gently pushing back from his embrace, she looked up into his face and repeated, “Guh gay yu hee.”  

Tyoga smiled down at her and said, “You and the children will be safe, T.J.  Coyote and Paints His Shirt Red will be staying here with you while I am gone.  Dancing Mouse and Morning Sky will stay and help with the children.  Brister will be going with us as far as Tuckareegee, and then will return to Twin Oaks. He knows how to run the plantation, so just give him free rein.  He has a good head for business.”

“Tyoga,” Trinity Jane responded with a tone of incredulity in her voice, “You are leaving to go into the Iroquois nation to rescue the woman who was to be your wife, and all you have to say to me is that Brister has a good head for business!  Have you thought at all that we may never see each other again?”  Trinity Jane walked away from his embrace to the opposite side of the bow window, and placed her head in her hands.  She turned quickly to face Tyoga and said with more anger than she wished, “Even if you aren’t killed, I don’t know if you will return to me and the children if you find Sunlei alive.”

Walking over to Trinity Jane, Tyoga placed his hands on her shoulders and gazed out the window toward the mountains in the distance to the west.  Speaking in Tsalagie, Tyoga said gently, “T.J., no one can know what the future may bring.  The Promise has shown me time and again that in all things there are but two outcomes.  From the moment of my awakening at the age of six I have known that if I listen to the silent messages that float on the wind and ooze from the very ground beneath our feet, the choice that I make will be the right one.  It will be right because no other choice was made.  I cannot explain it to you any better than that.  And I don’t expect you to understand.  But I want you to know that whatever happens, it will happen exactly as it was meant to be.  I will find Sunlei, or I will not.  I will return to Twin Oaks, or I will not.  I will survive, or I will not.  There is no more.”

“But there is more!  Don’t you see that there’s so much more, Tyoga!” Trinity screamed in English.

“You see the world through eyes that may have been blinded by the Promise rather than open to the realities of the natural world.  Perhaps your ‘Awakening’ was nothing more than a trap that snared you as tightly in its life-ending grip as the bear trap that seized Tes Qua’s ankle. You were there to free Tes Qua so that he has lived and loved and grown.  But no one has been able to free you from the Promise.” Walking away from the window she added, “You see the world through the eyes of the six-year-old child you once were.”  Sitting down on the fireplace hearth, she said softly, “I am beginning to believe that it is those who are not shackled by this so-called Promise who are truly able to see.”

Tyoga turned toward the window, and gazed down the cobble lane lined with shops that had their start in producing the food and materials necessary to keep Twin Oaks operating smoothly.  They had grown into stand-alone enterprises, owned and operated by the free blacks whose allegiance to Tyoga had not been purchased but earned by the dignity he bestowed in freedom, justice and honor.   Colonists and Indians alike filled the bustling avenue purchasing foodstuffs and goods from the smokehouse, the tannery, the bakery, the cooper and the blacksmith shop.  A newly established mercantile stocked the goods that were heretofore only available in Yorktown and Raleigh.  

Turning his gaze toward the south, he looked over the fields that produced the grain and corn and vegetables that fed the colonies and the Indian Tribes of the Tidewater and beyond.  He heard his flocks of sheep braying as they were herded toward the shearing shed.  The wool from his sheep produced enough yarn to be spun into bolts of cloth that would be sold from the colonies in New Hampshire to the Carolinas.   Turning away from the window and toward Trinity he allowed a smile to crease his cheeks as he said, “Still T.J.  I reckon I’ve done pretty good by us for a six-year-old.”

Standing up, Trinity walked briskly toward him with her arms open wide and said, “Tyoga, I’m sorry.  Your decisions are always right.  You’ve been a good hus . .,” catching herself she stopped short, and continued, “provider and father.  And no one can say any different.”

Tyoga wrapped her in his arms again and kissed the top of her head.

“We have Twin Oaks, two beautiful children and a third one on the way.  And you will always have me, Tyoga.   That’s the ‘more’ that you must consider.  Promise me that you won’t forget us.”

“Massa, Ty,” Brister yelled from outside the front door, “Time to go, Massa Ty.”

Tyoga kissed Trinity Jane one more time on the top of her head and squeezed her tightly to him.

He turned, opened the door, and heard her say once more, “Promise.”

He hesitated just a moment and stepped outside without saying a word.

As he skipped down the granite steps, a breeze from the west swept across the Mattaponi, tousled the cattails into a buzzing chatter and set the pines murmuring with nature’s sage counsel.

Just as Tyoga’s moccasins hit the ground, he heard the whisper in his ear,

“Listen to the wind.”