Southern Princess

Men discussing prices while slaves fill the cotton gin to process the freshly picked cotton.

“That’s mighty fine cotton you got there, Beau.”

“Thank’ee, Jeb.  It’ll go up to auction next week if I can get these lazy niggers to hustle.”

Jeb stiffened.  He’d seen how Beauregard Armand’s overseers worked the blacks of Moss Oak Estates and he’d seen the lash scars embossed on the backs of the slaves when they worked shirtless in the heat of the day.

“You interested, Jeb?” Beau continued, ignoring Jeb’s discomfort.  “I can let you have a pre-deal deal, if you know what I mean.  Fairly offered for a fair offer, if you know what I mean.

 “Thanks, Beau, but I’ll offer at the auction.  Gives me some time to sell those two mares for some real cash.”  Jeb knew that some plantation owners sold cotton before the big auction in Atlanta, thus avoiding the low bidding near the end of the sale.  It all depended on what position the seller drew.

 Jeb didn’t care much for the practice.  Besides, he needed to get a governess for the twins with the money he had.  He tried not to think of Violet back home in Boston because of the impending war.  Secession!  He hated even the sound of it.

“All right, if you change your mind—“  One of the  black girls carried a huge basket of cotton to the gin.  She tripped and went sprawling, raw cotton flying everywhere.  Beau slapped her hard across the face.

“You clumsy fool,” he yelled at the girl.  “I’ll give you the lash for this.”

Jeb noticed her for the first time.  There was something different about her that he couldn’t put his finger on.  Maybe it was her fine, aristocratic features. The girl got to her feet, gaping at Beau as if he had lost his senses. 

Her look didn’t escape Beau’s notice.  “You sassing me, girl?” he hissed menacingly.

She shook her head mutely.  He grabbed her by the arm and started hitting her.  Jeb tried to protest.

Scars of a whipped slave (April 2, 1863, Baton...

Scars of a whipped slave - Image via Wikipedia

“She’s sassing her master,” Beau yelled, hitting the girl some more.  She protected her head with her arms, but still said nothing.

“STOP!” Jeb shouted. “I’ll pay you one thousand dollars in gold for her, not Confederate currency.”

Beau dropped his hand to his side and stared at Jeb.  “Make it fifteen hundred dollars gold, and you have a deal.”

Jeb gave the man all the money he had.  Cotton was king in his world and the fact that he had the finest horse flesh in the county meant nothing until after the cotton auction, when the plantation owners had fat purses and wide grins.

“What’s your name, girl?” he asked as they rode back to Sweet Spirit Acres. 

“Arabella,” she said, keeping her eyes downcast.

“Do you have a last name?”

“Yes,” she replied.  “Zulu.”

Jeb thought a moment.  “Isn’t that the name of the…uh…a South African clan?”

“Yes.  It is my name, too.”

They rode in silence after that. Jeb had noticed Arabella had not called him sir or master, and her accent was as good as his own. When they drove up the winding lane to the big wooden mansion that was the home at Sweet Spirit Acres, he jumped down from the carriage.  The girl was struggling to get down from the seat to the step but she hunched over.

“Are you badly hurt, Arabella?” Jeb asked.

“I don’t know.  It pains a fair amount when I bend or breathe deeply.”

He helped her down and looked at her in perplexity.  “What am I going to do with you?”

Before he could decide, two young girls dressed identically in white dresses with pink sashes and pink slippers raced to the carriage.

“Papa, papa, you are back, did you sell the horses?”

Jeb smiled, scooped a girl up in each arm and hugged them.  “No, I bought something instead.”

The girls squealed with laughter and wriggled to get free.  “What, papa?” they chorused.  “Is it something to play with?”

“No, my darlings, it’s a new slave.  Her name is Arabella Zulu.”

Jeb watched in amazement as the black girl knelt down and gravely held out her hand to the girls.

“And what might your names be, children?”

He could swear, if he closed his eyes, he would think a well-educated white woman was kneeling there.

 “I’m Rose,” one of the girls giggled, and the other one chimed in, “I’m Violet.”

“Both lovely names, my little flowers,” Arabella said.  “I hope we meet again.”

“Papa,” Rose said solemnly, “I b’lieve Mother will like Arabella.”  Violet nodded, her black curls bouncing enthusiastically.

“Yes, I’m sure she will, angels.  Now, run along and find Hetty. Send her out here quickly and tell her to bring her healing kit.  We’ll be up to the house directly.”

The girls each flung their arms around Arabella and ran off laughing to the big house.

“All right, girl…uh, Arabella,” he amended.  “Who are you and where did you really come from?  Are you a free black from the North, a Yankee spy perhaps?”

The girl stood up with a gasp of pain, not quite able to stand straight.  She looked Jeb in the eye though.  “I am neither of those things.”

James King's sketch of King Shaka (1781 - 1828...

Shaka Zulu - Image via Wikipedia

“Well, by all that’s holy, what…who are you?”

The girl gave a faint smile.  “I am a princess of the Shaka Zulu tribe, but no one cares here.  And no one cares that their importation of me was illegal.  All they care about is the color of my skin.”  The depth of bitterness in her voice did not surprise him.

Suddenly Jeb realized the celebrity of her statement.  “THE Shaka Zulu?  The man who mobilized 20,000 Zulu warriors and defeated the British with all their cannons and rifles?”

She nodded, seeming surprised at how much he knew.  “Shaka Zulu was my great grandfather.”

“And yet you speak perfect English…”

“The families of the high tribal chiefs are now being sent to European cities to be educated so that we can survive in a world dominated by the white man.”

Jeb mulled that over for a moment.  “You do not belong here in this society.”

She shrugged, then winced.  “I am a victim of the times.  Europeans entered our village and killed everyone.  I was coming back from school in Durban with my brother Emmanuel.  They killed him and took me.  There is nothing more for me there.”

She had spoken in a low tone, with no emotion, but Jeb sensed a storm roaring beneath the calm exterior.

He regarded her thoughtfully for a moment.  He didn’t want this extraordinary woman to work for him if she was unwilling.  It would be like breaking the spirit of a fine Arabian mare.

“I’ll make a deal with you,” he said finally.

“A deal?  You are master and I am slave.  You have but to order me to do your bidding and I must comply.”

“I don’t want that kind of relationship,” Jeb said earnestly, then paused as her face clouded over and she drew back a little.

“No, not that kind of relationship either,” he said quickly.

“I think you would make a splendid governess for my daughters.  They need someone who can provide an education and give them the maternal affection they are missing.  The girls don’t know it yet, but their mother is not returning home.

“If you will do this, I will free you when they no longer need a governess…in about ten years.  In the meantime, I will treat you with respect and dignity, and you will be well treated and cared for. ”

The silence stretched out.  Then she spoke.  “How could I refuse such a gracious offer, sir?”

“Deal, then,” the young man said, relieved, and gently shook her hand.  Now he only had to worry about Violet and his broken heart.

1315 words
Southern Princess © 2011 by Sandra Bell Kirchman.  No reproduction allowed other than excerpts for the use of critiques or reviews.  Full credit must be given to the author.  All rights reserved.

THE ABOVE FLASH FICTION STORY was written to answer Haley Whitehall’s challenge to step out of our comfort zones and write a historical piece of fiction.  After struggling some, this is what I came up with.  Word count was originally close to 1500, then down to 1215.  When Haley clarified that the length could be up to 1500, I fleshed it out a little to its current length of 1315 words.

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36 responses to “Southern Princess

  1. Nicely done, Sandra. Quite timely too ~ in light of the 150 years passed since civil war broke out.

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  2. Aye, well done. I worry about the believability of my harshness to my make-believe races of people, forgetting the cruelty in our (America’s) own history…

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  3. An interesting ‘might have happened’ story. My Wife is Shona and very much an ‘African Princess’ in her own right. Her relatives fought in the first and second Chimurenga to free what was Southern Rhodesia from British Rule. Times move on – we have a happy mixed race relationship.

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    • I was interested in your wife’s real-life story and did a little research on Wikipedia. I found it all absorbing. What a rich history she has!

      Thanks for dropping by. Thanks to Haley Whitehall, I am hooked on flash fiction so I’ll likely be posting more of these little stories. You’re welcome here anytime. 🙂

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      • Our Son has Moyo as his Shona name – it is a traditional greeting in my wife’s clan, from which you will conclude that she is of the Rozvi dynasty. But he has two good Celtic names as well, in keeping with his Scots Grandfather.

        I’ll definitely be back to see how your flash fiction progresses 🙂

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  4. A bold reminder of events many in the modern world would prefer to pretend never took place.

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  5. Excellent flash, Sandra. Well done.

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    • Thanks, Selena. It’s the best I could do in this genre. However, I long had a dream to do an historical treatment of Osiris and Isis. Not sure I could do it now, but I loved the whole sweeping epic of their lives and his death.

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      • Oh, I would love to read that. I’ll be first in line to buy the book!

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        • Really? I did (or attempted) the research many years ago – before computers. I found out that prehistoric means before recorded history. Fortunately, the local university library opened its facilities to me, and I did tons of research…had notebooks filled with information.

          Then I sat down to write the story and realized that, at that time, I didn’t have the writing skills I needed to write that story. I probably do now, but I think I lost the spark along the way. Maybe not, since it still fills my mind from time to time.

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          • To make those gods and goddesses come alive on the page…it’s a passionate story, filled with murder, loss, and love. A true murder mystery. Maybe someday you’ll be in the right place and the words will unfold.
            And you definitely have the skills now!

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            • Yes, it is a marvelous story. Before Osiris came along, the primitive Egyptians were terrified of death, didn’t think about it, had no burial chambers, etc. With Osiris came the concept of life after death and the idea that you were judged for what you did during your life. It made a huge difference to how the Egyptians lived their lives.

              I also had the idea that Osiris, Isis, Horus, etc., were real people originally, but they came from very advanced civilizations, possibly Sumeria or even Atlantis. The ideas and culture they brought with them elevated them, in the Egyptian people’s eyes, to god status.

              That was how I was going to write the book anyhow. I wonder if I still have my research notes.

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  6. Even better! I like that idea. Time travel, reincarnation; a lot of different themes could be integrated into the story.

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  7. wow sandra!! this is really really REALLY good!!!

    keep up the good work!!! im hooked!

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  8. Sandra,
    This is the first piece of flash fiction I’ve read. It’s really really good. We’re a transracial adoptive family, and when my son was young and I was trying desperately to get even a little up to speed on black history and culture, I kept coming across the horrific picture you use here of the man with the web of whip scars on his back. Makes my stomach turn every time I see it. Among the responses my son and I used to provide when cruel people would say negative things about him or our family, was to tell them, straight-faced, that he was an African prince. That usually stopped them in their tracks. So did my saying, “Shame on you!” loudly enough for all to hear. Thanks for penning such a fine piece so different than your usual genre. One tiny question: Do the mother and a daughter share the name Violet? Or did I misread something? Would you mind sharing with me how long it took you to create this gem? I am SO slow! Also wanted to let you know I am reading my first sci fi since “Catch 22” in high school! My book club chose “The Fresco” by
    Sheri S. Tepper. I’m really enjoying it, especially the strong woman the story builds around. Have you read it?

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    • Thanks for sharing your story, Janet. I’m trying to think…I believe this is my first historical fiction piece, long or short. It took me about 3 hours to finish it, maybe a little longer. I don’t know where the idea came from, although I remember reading about Shaka Zulu in high school.

      Once I had the idea, I wanted to show all sides of the question…the kind, caring side (Jeb), the cruel taskmaster (Beau), and a slave quite different from anything the slaveowners had seen before. If Beau had known how much she was really worth, he would have realized he practically gave her away.

      And the ironic thing is that Jeb just bought her to save her from Beau…although he was attracted to her…not so much in a physical way as someone to fill a desperate need at Sweet Spirit Acres.

      And yes, the little girl was named after her mother. In the larger version of this story, it caused some rivalry between the two girls, even though the grandmother’s name was Rose. I didn’t get to tell all that in the flash story though. Not enough room.

      Btw, Janet, slow is perfectly okay for writers. It’s not the speed that you get things written…it’s the care and love you put into it. I’ve heard it said you can tell how much love a cook puts into his/her cooking by the taste of the food. Same thing with writer, and sometimes the slow cooker creates the best-tasting meal 😉

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  9. What a wonderful story Sandra. Now I want to read the REST of it!

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  10. Glad you enjoyed it, huffygirl. I am not an historical fiction writer really, so I’m not sure there will be any more…unless of course Haley issues another challenge in that vein. Then we’ll see 🙂 Funnily enough, though, I do have the rest of the story in my head…at least a skeleton outline.

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  11. First time on your blog. A beautiful flash fiction. I am going to read other stories over time.

    Cheers,
    SamyakJaya
    ThoughtTavern

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    • Thank you for dropping by and sampling the wares 🙂 I have fallen in love with writing flash fiction and will be writing others. Please relax, kick back, and enjoy the fiction.

      I dropped by your blog, Thought Tavern, and thoroughly enjoyed the tone and ambiance of it. It seems to reflect your personality admirably…calm, joyous inside, and practical. I’ll be back.

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  12. leads us wonderfully back to the roots …
    greetings by
    http://flickrcomments.wordpress.com/2011/04/28/josh-white/

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  13. This is a great story, Sandra! It’s imaginative but plausible – I’m sure it could have happened, but it never would have occurred to me. To tell so much in so few words is impressive!

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    • Thanks for the kind words, Kit. I’m not sure this story would have occurred to me either. However, part of the challenge was to write an historical flash fiction based on the picture at the top. At first, I couldn’t think of a thing that wasn’t trite and been done to death before. I did notice that the slave woman at the right of the picture looked different than the others and that she didn’t look downcast or beaten and that she was TRYING to do her job.

      Well, I started speculating as to why she was all those things. The name Shaka Zulu came to mind (I had heard about him when I was studying South Africa), and “Southern Princess” was what I came up with. The creative process is an amazing thing. I used to despair of coming up with, as you say, plausible plots. Then I found out that the ideas are ALWAYS there…it’s just a matter of looking for them. So I don’t worry (much) anymore.

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  14. Sandra: I LOVED this! Have you read “Someone knows my name” by Lawrence Hill? Your piece was quite reminiscent of Hill’s work—and he’s won all kinds of awards! 🙂 Next—Sandra Bell Kirchman! Thanks for sharing this with us! Cheers! BCC

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, Marsha. I haven’t read anything by Lawrence Hill. I will have to get that one. I would love to win some more awards. It’s a long dry spell in between 😛

      Thanks for dropping by and reading the story.

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  15. Very well written. I was instantly drawn in. Loved it!

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  16. Sorry it took me so long to respond! Truthfully I had forgotten I had even issues a picture prompt flash fiction challenge.

    I love the history you intertwined in this story, Sandra. I knew about Shaka Zulu but was secretly hoping for a Yankee spy connection. While the odds of this actually happen are slim it makes a well written, fun story. I am impressed with your historical fiction ability 😉

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  17. Ah, it never even entered my mind to have a Yankee spy connection. Would also make a good story. Actually it would make the story even better and still have it go the way it went. It would add much more motivation and suspense. However, I doubt I could fit it into 500 words. Thanks for dropping by 🙂

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