A Historical Trilogy

I've never considered writing historical fiction. There was just too much to research. But I'm warming to my Walraven Trilogy.

I've written three scenes for the early part of Oliver's Journal. I have to Google with almost every sentence I write, but it's coming along..... Oliver, btw, is seventeen, the oldest child of the family.

Oliver's Journal
by Connie Chastain

Prologue

March 20, 1709
Reeds Ferry, North Carolina

My name is Oliver Walraven. I have of recent days appointed myself the scribe of my family. This appointment was occasioned by a momentous change in our lives and, it is hoped, our fortunes.

To-day is the eve of our departure from our familiar and comfortable home in Reeds Ferry. Our destination is New France -- not the settled and civilized portions of Quebec, but the wilds bordering the upper coast of the Gulf of Mexico, along the shores of Mobile Bay, where a parcel of land measuring above 1,000 acres, and virtually nothing else, awaits us.

The distance between us and our new home is above 600 miles and will take many weeks to traverse. Our party comprises my father, Jesper Walraven, and my mother, Olivia, for whom I am named; my two younger brothers, Caleb and Daniel, and little sister Abigail. I must not leave out Caesar, our faithful hound, who is as much a part of the family as any of us human pups.

Our transportation comprises two wagons canopied with canvas, and three others, smaller but with tall sides and covered with tarpaulins. Each wagon is pulled by two oxen, some of which we plan to retain in our new home, and some we hope to trade or sell. All of the wagons are tightly packed with our possessions, including my mother's prized porcelain dinnerware and pewter, her a spinning wheel and a few pieces of small furniture. Unfortunately, the wagons were not of sufficient size or quantity to contain everything, and we had to sell or give away many items.

In the last wagon are wooden crates for what livestock we can bring -- two goats, two sheep, a small heifer, a recently farrowed sow and her still-nursing brood. Our single cow, Ruby, two mules and a Pa's fine mare, Nollie, will be tethered to the last wagon and walk the distance.

When the idea first came to me to become the chronicler of my family's events and adventures, I had intended to keep my personal opinions and expressions out of the narrative, but I realize that is impossible. I am a part of this family and what happens will bear upon me as much as anyone else.

We are all, myself included, of two minds regarding this fateful upheaval, this new beginning for our future. We are eager for untrodden land and a new life; but it is sobering to leave behind home, neighbors, and church. However, Pa is the son of a full-blooded Dutchman, and he claims to have inherited his independent spirit from grandfather. I don't know if such can be passed as a hereditary trait, or a learned one, because all of us children also prize independence.

That is what gives this event such appeal. Here in Reeds Ferry, a few hours ride from Albemarle, life is becoming regulated. Like other towns and hamlets in the eastern colonies, it is gradually filling with people, and when that happens, everyone must practice to accommodate others. The population of La Mobile, which is reported to be twenty or so miles across the delta to the west of our land numbers a few hundred.. The Indians are far more numerous, but we have been assured by the governor's land agent that they stay in their places and do not come around La Mobile except on trade days.

The land agent, a Mr. Bondurant, has written to us that the area is unspoiled and beautiful. Some 30 miles south of our acreage, the seashore comprises a beach of sand so brilliantly white it is said to cause temporary blindness. The vegetation ranges from densely shaded forests to grasslands suitable for grazing animals, marsh grasses, wild flowers and beautiful flowering trees and shrubs.

Our parcel -- ours by a grant from His Excellency, Governor Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville to my father -- is located in the delta where several rivers and tributaries stream into Mobile Bay. We are told that it is bordered on the South by a sizable inlet in the upper shore called Oklanoka Bay, on the west by the narrow Arnon River, a tributary of the Tensaw River, which it joins just before flowing into the bay, on the east by an old Indian trail with no name, and on the north by a slight ridge.

I must admit that I am eager to see it and to take possession. Everyone in the family has worked hard to leave behind a rental home and hireling status, and become independent land owners ready to civilize a wilderness.

I pray that the Deity will bless our efforts, watch over us during our journey and keep us safe. There are many perils facing overland travelers, even on roads that are becoming established, such as those we will travel -- Indians, bandits, wild animals, inclement weather, sickness. But our grandfather made his journey across a vast ocean to a new land, to independence, utterly alone and his blood flows in our veins.

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April 3, 1709
Deer Head Tavern and Trading Post

It has been a fortnight since we left on our journey to a new life. I had hoped, indeed, had planned, to write in my journal much more frequently, but there has been no time. At the end of each day, the beasts traveling with us have to be fed and watered, a fire made, supper prepared, consumed, and cleaned up after, and the wagons secured for the night.

After Mama, Abigail and Daniel climb into the lead wagon with Caesar and fall into exhausted sleep, Pa, Caleb and I begin our night watches. Our watches are about two and a half hours long. While one is on watch, the other two sleep. There might be time during this interlude to write, but there is little light. The camp fire and pine-knot torches are barely adequate for sight. And then there is the matter of my reluctance to set my precious ink on the uneven ground and risk losing it in a spill.

But tonight, we are indoors. I am seated at a table with a fine lamp next to me. My journal with its beautifully bound pages lies open before me. When I will find these conditions again I do not know.

The proprietor, a Mr. Comstock, and his Cherokee wife, gave us a hearty welcome. They rarely see travelers and confessed that they may have chosen an inadvantageous location for their enterprise.

I nevertheless am grateful the tavern is here, and that we found it. The journey thus far has been grueling but successful, except for the loss of a piglet we found dead three days ago. We could not ascertain why it died and were worried for the rest of the brood, although they all seem healthy.

Every few days, when we come across a stream, we stop just long enough to fill the water barrels and to fish and hunt. We have had fresh meat -- rabbit and squirrel -- and fish for about half the journey thus far. It appears that our other food stores -- a mountain of potatoes and sweet potatoes, sacks of dried beans and more that we brought with us -- will get us through the journey, as long as we continue to have good hunting and fishing.

The only thing I really miss is bread -- biscuits, butter and honey, and cornbread with beans. We have everything necessary to make them, except time.

We've had a few scares. A mountain lion investigated our encampment a week ago while we were eating supper. Pa and I grabbed our muskets while Daniel held onto Caesar and clamped a hand around his muzzle, but the beast apparently lost interest and wandered off. Caleb almost stepped on a timber rattlesnake several days ago. He froze. He later said he was willing himself to move and grab a hatchet from the wagon, but the rattler slithered away before he could act. He was shaken and it took a while for him to collect himself and tell us about the encounter.

We are following a rough map drawn for us by a traveler, a self-described explorer, who stopped in Reeds Ferry on his way back to Virginia, after a journey through the wilderness and several years sojurn along the Mississippi River. He was the source of tales and information that held our rapt attention for days when we first decided to migrate.

The roads we are traveling widely skirt the eastern edge of the Appalachian Mountains. This is the Piedmont, where we encounter many obstructions and rough terrain. It is hard on the wagons. We inspect the wheels, axles, suspension and such at every stop, but as long as we traverse this rough land, it is just a matter of time before one of them breaks down. Thus, although it will add days to our journey, Pa has decided to eschew the map and angle southeastward, toward the Atlantic coast, where he hopes we will find smoother terrain.

The roads through this wilderness follow Indian trails, which themselves follow animal trails that have been millennia in the making. They lead to hunting grounds, grazing places, streams and watering holes. I do not know what sort of roads we will find on the coastal plain.

We have encountered very few savages, although I suspect they are often hidden just out of sight and are watching us. We packed a small supply of objects for trade, should we have need of them but thus far, have not had a face-to-face encounter. Those we have seen in the distance did not attempt to molest us. They inspected our wagons and muskets from their position several yards away. Presumably, finding us no threat, they did not attempt to hinder out travel. Pa hopes that we will encounter a village or group of Indians farther South who can advise us when to turn back to the west, toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Pa prays each night at the campfire, holding his well-worn Holy Bible in his hands even though it is too dark to read scripture. We hear their comforting message, anyway, as Pa has many passages committed to memory. I am certain his entreaties to the Lord God of Hosts for protection is the reason we have suffered no calamities.

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May 15, 1709
Somewhere in British Territory

Some days ago, we altered direction from the southeast to the southwest. We remain in the mid-region of the coastal plain, which is hilly and covered with thick vegetation. The Indian trails we are following are sometimes barely wide enough for our wagons to traverse, small though they be.

A few times, however, we have come across open land with few or no trees, which seem to be the result of great fires. Some apparently occurred long ago, others more recently, judging by the stages of returning life, the thickness of grassy areas, shrubs and scrub, and saplings. We pause at these places and let the livestock graze for a while.

It is wondrous to see the tenacity of life that the Creator bestowed upon the earth.

We are all fatigued beyond expression, and that has slowed our progress, a circumstance that troubles us. But Papa says we must continue slow and steady, and not try to hurry and wear ourselves out, for there will be prodigious amounts of work to do from the moment we arrive -- land to clear, fences and shelter to build for the stock and a domicile for ourselves, a garden to plant, even though it will be mid-summer when we arrive, and rain catchers for drinking water, until a proper cistern can be constructed. It is possible we can dig a well this purpose, but both Papa and I suspect brackish water intrusion if the well is located too close to the shore; but it can't be so far away that fetching water will be laborious and time consuming.

As soon as these initial endeavors permit, we will construct a raft for sculling to LaMobile for trading, and for fishing in the nearby rivers.

So many nights on the journey, Papa and I have talked of these things, of the life that awaits us.

The mention of rivers reminds me to note that this land of everlasting forests is also the land where rivers abound. We have been most fortunate in locating shallows that we can fjord, as the land hereabouts is uninhabited and ferries are unneeded.

Mama is looking forward to finding out what wild things grow on the Gulf Coast useful for food or medicine. She was an enthusiastic and near expert forager back home, and has even done a smattering on the journey, flavoring rabbit stew with pungent and tasty wild onions. She also harvested a small amount of gensing for her medicine box.

I'm glad she found it, in case it is needed, though I hope it won't be. Abigail has us all a touch worried. She's tired, as we all are, but peaked, too, almost like she's fevered, though her skin feels normal to the touch. She's been listless for several days. We have insisted that she ride in the wagon, although she says the ride is too bumpy, and she wants to walk with the rest of us. Daily, we bring her to the attention of Our Heavenly Father.

Tentative prologue...

...for the middle book in a historical trilogy I'm writing....

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 After the Stars Fell

Prologue
Valhalla Farm
Near Mobile, Alabama
November 13, 1833

At the back of the farmhouse, in a room he pretentiously called the library, Morgan Walraven waited for the notes in his journal to dry. He wasn't going to write any more tonight, so he gently swished his quill pen in a small bowl of water and laid it aside to dry.

Several feet away, stretched out on a braided rug near the fireplace, a yellow feist named Jupiter -- Morgan's faithful friend since his teenage years -- was deep in sleep.

It was so still and quiet, he almost jumped when the clock on the mantle chimed the first of twelve strikes, marking a cold November midnight, like so many others. Nevertheless, tonight there was a ripple of anticipation in the air.

It was always that way on the day -- or night -- that babies came.

None of the babies that had come to Valhalla in the past were his -- they were siblings or nieces or nephews -- but that little surge of anticipation accompanied them all.

This time, though, it was his baby and the ripple was supercharged.

He grew still, straining to hear any sound coming from upstairs. Tedious silence settled over him. He slid his chair back from the desk -- plain but sturdy items, built by his grandfather -- took the base of the lamp in hand and stepped to the settee next to the fireplace, where low flames crackled softly.

His current book sat on a nearby table. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. He had read it before, once as a boy, and once as a young adult. He put the lamp on the table, sat down and got comfortable, and reached for the book.

Tales of the sea and faraway places appealed to him. It seemed that he had inherited the sometimes bewildering conflict other Walraven men had experienced -- a devotion to the land, to what grew and lived there, but also a fascination with the sea, an allure that drew them as the moon draws the tides, whether they could indulge it or not.

It didn't help that he lived no more than a stone's throw from the upper edge of the brackish estuary of Mobile Bay, which emptied into the Gulf of Mexico, which itself opened onto the Atlantic Ocean ... and the entire world. In daylight, from the house, he had a distant but clear view of a strip of sawgrass marsh and sparkling blue water beyond.

But his world had already been decided. His destiny was the land, the forests, the fertile fields of Valhalla Farm.

He had not read half a page before the text blurred and disappeared and his breathing grew deep and regular -- until something, some noise awakened him. He was surprised to see that an hour had passed. His grogginess left him in an instant when he remembered why he was not in bed and he sat up, listening intently for the sound of Olivia, the midwife, calling to him.

Instead, he heard urgent knocking at the door to the back veranda. Jupiter raised his head and his ears pricked as the soft but frantic voice of Isaac, the farm's foreman, quavered, "Mast' Morgan! Please, come quick! The end of the world comin'!

Morgan strode to the door and opened it to see the terrified faces of Isaac and young Wiley as they motioned him outside.

"The sky falling!" Wiley shrieked, clutching the porch rail and pointing upward. "The stars, they comin' down like rain!"

"It's the tribilation!" Isaac said.

"Y'all quiet down," Morgan said sotto voce. "You'll wake everybody."

He stifled a smile at the silly thought of leaving his family in the arms of Morpheus through the Second Coming. Glancing to the side, he saw Jupiter lay his head back down and fall into instant slumber. How bad could it be if Jupe was sleeping through it?

But as he stepped through the doorway, levity deserted him. The frosty air that wrapped around him didn't register because his attention was caught by something else -- the eerie, almost other-worldly glow that illuminated the countryside, giving him a brief chill unrelated to the temperature.

He walked across the veranda, steadied himself against the bannister rail, and leaned forward to look up beyond the edge of the roof. Evergreen live oaks blocked out the sky but through gaps in the foliage, he could see pinpricks of light. Moving.

"See Mast'?" Wiley had lowered his voice but his tone was as urgent as before.

"Come with me," Morgan murmured. "Let's go out front. We can see better there."

He led the two frightened servants inside, calling softly, "Wiley, shut the door." They hurried down the hallway to the front door, which Morgan swung wide. The trio scurried down the steps to the yard.

The trees here grew along the sides of the lawn, leaving the sky open above it. What Morgan saw when he looked up took his breath away.

Meteors, hundreds of them -- no, thousands of them -- lighting up the countryside far more brightly than a full moon, and falling to earth just as Wiley had said, constantly, like rain. But not like rain, either, since few actually reach the earth. And they were completely silent.

Morgan stared upward, transfixed by sheer awe and a fragment of delight -- both tempered with a sizeable measure of the same fear that rattled Isaac and Wiley.

"Mast', please, you gotta do something!" Wiley pleaded. "Maybe you pray and the Lawd, he hear you and stop this!"

"Y'all think, now. It's not the tribulation -- no earthquakes, the moon hasn't turned to blood, none of the other signs are happening. Of course I'll pray, but it will stop on its own, anyway. The Leonid meteors occur this time every year."

"Nawsuh!" Isaac said adamantly. "I ain't never seen nothing like this."

"Yes, it isn't usually this grand -- not usually this many of them. Well ... never this many of them, so something uncommon is going on. But not the end of the world. Regardless of how many we see, there's no need to worry. They burn up before they reach earth. That's why they're so bright. They're on fire."

"Oh, Lawd!" Wiley wailed. "They ain't stars! They fire! Please, Mast' Morgan, please pray for the Lawd to save us!"

"All right, but calm down. How is everybody in the reserve?"

"Skeered," Wiley said.

"And Milly," Isaac added, "she in ... she in the travail. She skeered the child will die." Distress threaded Isaac's tone; Milly was his wife.

"I forgot about y'all's baby coming." Morgan's forehead buckled with mild chagrin. "I've had another baby on my mind tonight. Here, let's kneel and pray."

He dropped to one knee, his hands on the shoulders of the trembling servants, who knelt with him.

"Heavenly Father, please protect us from this spectacular display of the power and beauty of nature thou hast created. Remove from us the spirit of fear, and keep us in thy holy protection, that we may serve thee all our days. We especially pray thy blessings on the little bairns who are on their way to us, and for their mothers and fathers. In the name of thy son Jesus, amen."

"Amen," echoed the two servants, who were calmer now but still unwilling to look upward.

The prayer had calmed Morgan, too. He stood and said, "You go on back and tell everyone its not the end of the world, and tomorrow will arrive like always. Tell them I told you this happens every year -- it's just never been this intense -- and tell them we prayed and the Lord will watch over us all, especially Milly and her little one."

"Yessuh," Isaac said dubiously. He and Wiley loped across the lawn and around the corner of the house, disappearing in the shadows.

Morgan resumed his riveting contemplation of the heavens. At that moment he heard the faint sound of a baby's cry coming through the open door.  The wondrous phenomenon unfolding above him was instantly forgotten as he streaked up the steps and inside the foyer, and fairly flew up the staircase.

The baby's lusty cries grew louder.

Morgan paused at the door to the bedroom he and Julia shared, met by an object that was surely unmovable.

"You can see them in a little while," Olivia said. "Not right now."

"Is she all right? Is the baby all right?" He tried to look past her but could see only his sister-in-law, Eliza, smoothing the bed covers.

"They fine." Olivia side-stepped to block his view. "We'll get 'em both fixed up for you to see but it'll take a few minutes. You wait."

"Livvy, since you're here, who's with Milly?"

"Betsy taking care of Milly."

"Betsy? She's just a kid."

"She know what she doing. Now you g'wan outta here."

Too keyed up to sit, he ignored the deacon's bench in the upstairs hallway and paced the floor, wondering how long Olivia's little while would last, until he heard her say, "You can come now, Mast' Morgan."

Entering the room lit with a golden glow from a single lamp, he met Eliza headed for the door, carrying a basket full of clothing and rags. He caught a glimpse of bloodstains, which jolted him, but it dissipated with Eliza's happy visage beaming at him. "Congratulations, Morgan. You have a son!"

"A son...."

Julia was reclining on a mound of pillows, looking wan but serene, staring down at the face of the baby in her arms.

At Morgan's approach, she looked up and her peaked face was transformed by a radiant smile. "Oh, look at him, Morgan! Isn't he beautiful?"

Morgan bent to gently stroke the baby's cheek with a forefinger. Dressed in a white batiste gown with delicate tatting around the sleeves, bald, red-faced and scowling, the baby nevertheless was indeed beautiful.

"Yes, he is. And so are you." He kissed her forehead, straightened to look at his son and basked in this moment of joy. "Born as the stars are falling. His life will be charmed."

Julia gave him a quizzical look.

He stroked her hair back from her forehead and said, "I'll tell you later. You get some sleep now."

She nodded before resting her head against the pillows and closing her eyes. Olivia tiptoed to the bed to take the baby from his mother's arms and lay him in his cradle.

As Morgan walked back toward the doorway, he heard other doors opening and urgent whispers in the hallway. Judging by the occasional word that reached him, the spectacular display in the heavens had become so bright, it had awakened his sister and brothers. He stepped into the hall and said, "Y'all go outside and look. You don't get the full effect looking through the windows."

They stared at him, Rachel in mild alarm, Carson and Noah disheveled and bleary-eyed with sleep.

"The full effect of what?" said Rachel. "What's that strange light outside?"

"Falling stars, thousands of them." He shook his head and held up a hand. "No, it's not the tribulation, just a meteors raining down out of the sky. A magnificent sight and maybe a charm, a good omen --" he gave a little laugh "-- on the night of my son's birth!"

"Son? The little one has come?" Rachel cried. "Oh, Morgan, how wonderful!" She wheeled around and reached toward him. He returned her quick embrace.

"Y'all go on outside," he repeated. "The babe's asleep. You can see him when he wakes. But we don't know if we will ever again see such a spectacular display in the heavens. Not until the end of time."

The mention of thousands of meteors had knocked the drowsiness off his brothers' faces. They trooped downstairs with Rachel to see this wonder in the sky.

Nobody saw Olivia lurking in the bedroom doorway, or heard her low-voiced, "Charm? Or curse?"

She clasped her hands before her breast and raised her face, eyes closed, and silently beseeched the Deity to protect the little one from whatever evil the stars might portend. "All his days, amen and amen," she ended in whisper.

Copyright © 2018 by Connie Chastain. All rights reserved.