Please give a big welcome to a fellow Women Writing the West author – Alethea Williams.
Her latest book, Náápiikoan Winter, is a western historical that releases May 9!
At the turn of a new century, changes unimagined are about to unfold.
THE WOMAN: Kidnapped by the Apaches, a Mexican woman learns the healing arts. Stolen by the Utes, she is sold and traded until she ends up with the Piikáni. All she has left are her skills—and her honor. What price will she pay to ensure a lasting place among the People?
THE MAN: Raised in a London charitable school, a young man at the end of the third of a seven year term of indenture to the Hudson’s Bay Company is sent to the Rocky Mountains to live among the Piikáni for the winter to learn their language and to foster trade. He dreams of his advancement in the company, but he doesn’t reckon the price for becoming entangled in the passions of the Piikáni.
THE LAND: After centuries of conflict, Náápiikoan traders approach the Piikáni, powerful members of the Blackfoot Confederation. The Piikáni already have horses and weapons, but they are promised they will become rich if they agree to trap beaver for Náápiikoan. Will the People trade their beliefs for the White Man’s bargains?
ISOBEL CURSED ÁYÍLAA to the fullest of her youthful vocabulary. He had delivered her into slavery. She knew now why he had pointed out certain plants and taught her the words for them. So now she knew the names of what she was supposed to seek, but the knowledge did her little good. Out in the hot sun all day with Apache girls who hated and taunted her, Isobel had to quickly learn to fend for herself. Gathering yucca buds and wild onion, she grew to expect the unexplained blows and stinging slaps, after a while barely flinching when they came without cause or warning. She learned to give up the best and most succulent tidbits she had discovered to the meanest of the horrid girls, keeping only the scrawniest and least nourishing. The Apache girls delighted in setting her impossible tasks, daring her to fail so they had yet one more excuse to slap her or whip her. Searching out prickly pear fruit and edible roots among the rocks and poor soil of the foothills, Isobel endured in silence the gobs of Apache girl spittle almost constantly running down her face.
At night she returned to the old crone to whom Áyílaa had presented her when they came to this place. Often she received yet one more beating for bringing home such scanty rations. Then Isobel cursed Áyílaa again and sometimes cried with helplessness, even though she knew tears only served to whip the old woman to increased fits of toothless fury.
So, almost starving, Isobel didn’t understand why she must go twice a day to feed Pedro Navarro and her father. She didn’t understand why the Apache fed them in the first place, why they were kept prisoner but required to do no work and almost certainly fated to die. She resented the task of bringing them food. She resented feeding her own father, and she couldn’t help comparing the sumptuous food he received—meats and cornmeal breads—to the meager vegetable fare the Indians forced her to find on her own if she wished to eat. She couldn’t help her anger; starved and forced to watch the two captive men gorge themselves, she received nothing. The guard who accompanied her made sure she stole not even a crumb of the food meant for the prisoners, and he cuffed her away from them the single time Armando tried to share with her. Pedro, fat hands unbound while he stuffed food in his mouth, never even bothered to offer.
“Isobel,” Don Armando said softly one day, staring at her as if seeing her for the first time since their capture. “What happened to your hair?” He reached out to touch the stripe on her head now covered with soft, snowy fuzz. Áyílaa had told her—shown her in sign—that she had been hit by lightning on the mountain. She assumed her hair got burned off at that time. She told Armando how she had held off the Apache with the burnt piece of wood. He smiled and petted her, admiring her bravery. She felt a desperate contentment just to have him touch her with kindness. After these recent weeks with the ferocious Apache girls, she desperately needed someone to love her and to touch her lovingly.
She listened while her father talked, explaining, explaining, drawing out his meals in exquisite torture for her. Perhaps he didn’t realize she continually went hungry, and perhaps, in his frantic need to excuse himself, he didn’t care. She got much of the bloody history of New Mexico in those monologues: Armando apologetically comparing his enslavement of the Indians who worked in his silver mine to the days before the uprising of 1687, when the Spaniards had been completely driven out of the province of Nuevo Mexico. Armando’s own slaves had rebelled just like those of a century earlier, nearly killing Pedro Navarro in the process.
“But don’t worry—they paid with their lives,” Navarro interjected with oily satisfaction. “The Apache arrived, and wiped out their puny victory. So it was all for nothing. The Pueblos got no success from besting your father and me.”
Isobel searched the heights of the mountains surrounding the valley where the Apache village lay. If the fat fool didn’t yet realize it, she thought, he and her father—and she—would have no victory to savor either.
“Padre,” she said, “can’t you get us out of here?”
“I—I will try if I get a chance, Isobel. I don’t even know where we are for sure. It can’t be helped—I was unconscious, so I don’t know the way.”
BIO: Alethea Williams is the author of Willow Vale, the story of a Tyrolean immigrant’s journey to America after WWI. Willow Vale won a 2012 Wyoming State Historical Society Publications Award. In her second novel, Walls for the Wind, a group of New York City immigrant orphans arrive in Hell on Wheels, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Walls for the Wind is a WILLA Literary Award finalist, a gold Will Rogers Medallion winner, and placed first at the Laramie Awards in the Prairie Fiction category.