Jamestown Fort, January 1609
Sarah awoke in the dark. The first thing she noticed was the cold. It had seeped through the clothing she wore, through the blanket that she had wrapped herself in, through the very ground; reaching for her like the icy, cold fingers of death. She exhaled and watched her breath become visible in the gray, early light of dawn that crept through the cracks of the door. Immediately after the cold, she noticed her hunger. Her last morsel of food had been 5 days ago. Those who had taken refuge in the fort had become desperate over the last few weeks. Resupply ships that were supposed to arrive from England had never come and relations with the Native Americans in the wilderness surrounding the fort had severely deteriorated. Things had been touch and go ever since the fort had been built, but about half a year ago, right after Sarah had arrived, a brief fight over hunting rights had ended with three Native Americans killed. Attacks on the settlers, which had been decreasing, became frequent again and even more savage, so those remaining outside the forts had taken refuge inside.
The area inside the fort was about an acre total. There was not enough land to farm and with everyone plus their goods inside, space was at a premium. They were trapped, however. If they tried to go outside the gates to farm or plant the Indians would attacks and with winter in their midst, nothing would grow at this point. They did not dare even consider going out to hunt because they knew that if they left the safety of the fort, they would never be seen again, at least on this earth.
The horses had been the first to go. The settlers didn't have enough food to feed themselves, let alone their horses. After the horses were dogs, then cats. Finally, rats were also caught and eaten. After all types of wildlife were gone, the settlers had been reduced to whatever they could find. People were chewing on leather straps, trying to gain any nourishment they could from any substance possible. Some people had even resorted to stuffing themselves with mud and dirt from the ground, a practice that stopped shortly after two people were sickened and died.
Dreaming of the life that she had left back home in England, Sarah got decided to get up and start her day, not that it would consist of anything. She stood carefully, trying to avoid stumbling or falling in her weakness and hunger. After gained her feet, she stepped very carefully around the forms of the other people that had taken refuge in the barracks that were huddled on the floor near where she had slept and she crept slowly to the doorway, then, bracing herself against the cold, she slipped outside.
Surprisingly, it wasn't as cold as she expected. She stopped in the doorway as the door swung slowly shut behind her and she took in her surroundings, just as she did every morning. The central courtyard was empty, everyone having retreated to a relative warmer place inside the few buildings that stood. Sarah had slept in the barracks, an area meant to house a few hundred soldiers that now housed almost every one of the settlers in Jamestown, close to 800. Other members of the community had taken shelter in the church, the armory, and the basement of the governor's house, a smallish structure that stood along one of the walls. As Sarah looked around, she noticed Robert across the courtyard. A blacksmith, Robert had one of the few shops in the settlement that had been allowed to be built inside the fort due to his craft. Even with supplies so scarce, Robert still managed to keep a fire burning in his quarters, a very small shop that also served as his home. He refused, however, to allow anyone to share it with him. A mute, Robert had not bothered to try and make any friends in the settlement. What he was thinking at any given time was a mystery to everyone but himself.
As Sarah looked across the courtyard, she saw Robert raise his hand and beckon to her. She looked around, confused, sure that he was motioning to someone else. She saw, however, that she was alone. As she made eye contact again, he motioned to her again, calling her over to him. Confused as to what he could possibly want, she raised the hem of her skirt to avoid the mud and she began to walk across the courtyard, slowed a little by the fierce hunger that she tried continually to ignore as well as by the cold, which had seemed to have dropped a little in the few minutes that she had been outside. As she approached Robert's shop, he opened the door behind him and motioned a final time, a clear invitation to come in. Without waiting for a response, he turned and walked into his shop, leaving the door open behind him.
As Sarah approached the first of the steps that led up to Robert's door she stopped. Something seemed wrong. It was not like Robert to invite someone in, especially a 14 year old girl like herself. She almost turned and left at this point, but suddenly, the briefest hint of heat hit her from the open doorway. Robert had a fire going; she could even see the shifting red and orange glow of the fire from his forge. Almost as if her feet had a mind of their own, she climbed the steps and timidly entered Robert's shop. She saw him squatting down by the fire; it looked even more glorious than she had imagined.
She saw Robert glance back and, with the briefest of motions, he motioned for her to come over. Abandoning all caution she rushed over and, in her haste to get as close to the fire as possible, she almost fell headlong into it. She stopped a few mere inches from the fire and held out her hands, as close as possible to the flames in an effort to get warm. Trying to get as close as possible to the heat without burning herself, she began rubbing her hands together, then holding them out again, trying to warm herself up as quickly as possible.
Sarah squatted by the fire, almost warm at last, she sighed as she closed her eyes. She had a feeling that the hunger would be made even worse with the warmth, but she didn't care. She kept her eyes closed; smelling the smoke of the burning wood, allowing the heat to soak through her clothes and warm what seemed to be her whole body. She involuntarily sighed again, almost content. Since her eyes were closed, she never saw the hammer coming. Suddenly a bright white flash exploded behind her closed eyelids and Sarah's last conscious thought was of the heat that Robert had provided for her.
Robert looked down at Sarah's body. She had taken his blacksmith's hammer and with one stroke had ended the girl's life. Some people might think that he had been doing a kindness; the girl was probably going to starve to death soon anyway. Rather than allow her to suffer, he had granted her the gift of a quick, painless end to her suffering instead of allowing her to wallow in pain as her body digested itself from the inside. Most of the people in the fort were probably going to suffer that fate. Robert, however, had no plans on starving, to death or otherwise. He hadn't killed Sarah in order to do her a kindness; he had done it to give himself a chance to live.
When Robert had considered his plan for the first time, Sarah had seemed like a logical choice. Actually, she was one of the only choices. Sarah had come over on her own from England, an attempt by the girl to make a new life for herself in Jamestown. Her friends and family members were all back in England, so she had no one to look for her or miss her. Tough luck for her, Robert figured. He felt her neck, making sure there was no pulse. Finding nothing, he reached for his hunting knife...
An hour later he was done. The butchering had not taken nearly as long as he thought it would have, due to the severe malnutrition she had been facing. After he had made the first few, exploratory cuts, he had gotten the hang of it. He had also put a strip of muscle on the coals of his fire. The smell of the cooking meat had almost driven him insane, but he had been determined to wait. Finally, he was done. He realized that he was guilty of murder and if he was discovered, he would be hanged before the sun went down. However, he had weighed the options and realized this was the only way that he was going to survive. He fished the meat out of the coals of his fire and blew on it, trying to speed the cooling down process. Without waiting any longer, with only the briefest hesitation, he stuffed the entire piece of meat in his mouth. As he began chewing, he reached for more, not thinking about the fact that he was eating a young girl that he had known, but only focusing on the fact that he was eating.
To be continued...