Author: Kat Lee
Character/Pairing: John Rolfe/Pocahontas, mentions of past John Smith/Pocahontas
Challenge/Prompt: fan_flashworks 192: Tree
Warning(s): Character Death, AU Mixture of History and Movie Cannon
Word Count: 1,701
Date Written: 29 May 2017
Disclaimer: All characters within belong to Disney, not the author, and are used without permission.
Fat raindrops begin to fall, and clouds gather, hiding the ship as she nears the shore. He wastes in no time in paying the men to leave as quickly and quietly as they have come or in carrying his precious cargo onto the land. She had wanted to come with him. He wishes with all his heart that she could have, but this, he knows, is the closest she'll ever come home again as he hurries ashore.
Nothing seems to move on the beach but the rising breeze that sways the tops of the trees, but Rolfe hurries as fast as he can with the bundle of his wife in his arms. He hurries, tripping through the wet sand and almost falling at least a dozen times as he makes his way from the shore into the forest. He remembers how beautiful she was when he first saw her and how his heart had ached for her, but now he knows he had been a fool. He had been wrong, so wrong, and she had paid the price!
Tears speed down his face faster than the rain can fall from the night sky. No animals scurry through the woodlands, and yet they had all once come out of hiding whenever she had called. Somewhere, a bough breaks. A limb snaps. He remembers a raccoon scurrying from tree to tree and a dog barking its little, fool head off with joy. She had made the animals so happy. She had made him so happy, and yet all he had ever done was bring her sorrow.
Part of him doesn't expect to make the trip. He doesn't want to go back. He won't go back -- he even left their son in the care of others --, but he has to make it to his destination. He owes her that much at least. Still, he's frightened and running as though every pack of hounds the Queens owns are nipping at his feet.
But there are no baying beasts hot on his trail. There are no men shouting or women crying. There are no animals howling with sorrow. No one at all seems to be moving on this land, but he knows that's not the truth. They move. They still live here somewhere, somewhere where he can not see them and, he hopes, they can not see him, the traitor to their beautiful, beloved Princess.
Except she never really was loved. Powhatan had been all too happy to hand her over. Her people had only ever wanted what she could do for them. They'd never loved her. Even John Smith had denied her rescue of him before. The animals loved her. He, John Rolfe, loved her, but then even he had hurt her so grievously!
He never should have made her leave this land -- or, rather, he never should have let her. She had been too eager to go to the new country, to his world, for her people. He should have stopped her. He should have made her realize that what she wanted to give them was, in truth, in no one's best interest but England's. He loved her; he should have made her his first priority instead of his country, even if she had never loved him in return. It wasn't her fault that she had always loved Smith, but although John Smith had started breaking her heart when she had not been much more than a child, it was he, John Rolfe, her husband, who had finished breaking it. She was dead because of him.
Blinded more by his tears than the dark, wet night all around him, Rolfe stumbles again. His foot catches on a root, and he sprawls forward across the ground, his wife's body, wrapped carefully in layers of cloth, spiraling through the night and into waiting vines. The whole earth seems suddenly to shake. "Oh, my Pocahontas! My sweet, sweet Pocahontas! What have they done to you?!"
Rolfe looks up as lightning crashes, and by its silver light, he sees an ancient, withered face appearing in the bark of the tree. She doesn't even waste a glance on him. All her attention is focused on her great-granddaughter. "Oh, my Pocahontas!" she weeps and wails, her branches moving and reminding him of how the weeping willow first got its name. She sounds so much like her granddaughter when Pocahontas cried, but she always forced her tears away whenever she realized he was near. This time, they don't stop.
"I'm sorry!" The wind snatches his words from him and carries them across the land. Now animals begin to scurry. Now trees bend to the very earth itself. Now the wind howls, and he shouts again to be heard, "I'M SORRY!"
The old tree looks at him, and for a moment, he thinks she might kill him, if trees can kill. But it is always the human who chops down the tree, never vice versa. Still, as her vines come wrapping around him, he struggles at first, thinking she might well choke out of him what life he still possesses, before stopping. What does it matter if an old tree nobody still believes holds a spirit is his executioner? He deserves no less than death, and he doesn't want to live in this world without his beautiful, cherished Pocahontas in it any way!
"You did not know," she whispers to him, and her voice sounds so much like his wife's that it catches at his heart. "You did not know. You could not know."
"I did know! I was going to bring her home!"
"But she was always so interested in what she could do for her people," the tree remarks in a voice somewhere between a sobbing cry and a musical lilt, all while still sounding far too much like his Pocahontas. "She never cared what could, or should, be done for her!"
"You're right!" he says, and then, he, too, starts sobbing. "She never once asked for anything for herself! Except to be loved, and even that, she did not ask of the right people!"
"She did not," the ancient spirit his Pocahontas had often spoke of agreed, "did she? For you loved her, John Rolfe. You did. I can see it in your eyes, see it in your soul." One of her seemingly countless, and all swaying, vines reaches out and pops his chest gently, right over his heart. "You loved her -- "
"But it wasn't enough!" he cries.
"No. No, it was not," Grandmother Willow agrees. "It could not be for her heart belonged to another since she was too young for your people to have believed she could love, but love she did! I feared that John Smith of hers would turn out to be no good!"
"Your fears were founded, Gr-Gran--" He can not bring himself to call her by name even though he knows it.
"Call me Grandmother Willow," she instructs him with the kind, old wisdom Pocahontas had always purported her to possess. "Everybody does."
"But you are not my grandmother!"
"Nonsense, boy. You loved my granddaughter, and we are all either of us have left of her."
"I know! I know!" he says, and this time when her vines close around him, he doesn't even think to fight. He just sobs and sobs and sobs, the howling, pitiful cries of a truly and completely broken heart.
"They will come looking for her body, you know."
"They must not find it! The least I could do is bring her home! It's all she really needed! If I had only done it in time -- "
"But there was always something else, wasn't there?" Grandmother Willow asks gently, knowingly, kindly. "Always something else, some other case or matter where she thought she could help her people?"
"Yes!" He sobs, wetting her green leaves with his tears.
"My poor, poor Pocahontas! My darling girl!" the ancient Willow wails. "She never did understand! We are her people, not them! Not the ones who sold her into slavery or the one who claimed to never have loved her! Not the ones who used her for what she could do for them! We! The spirits of the forest, the animals who loved her truest, you, dear Rolfe!"
"M-Me?" he whimpers.
"Why, of course!" Her vines embrace him with a kindness he's only ever known in one other, once bright and vivid soul. "You were the only man to ever love her!"
"I -- I was, but . . . But she did not love me!"
"More's the pity! Had she loved you, she might still be with us! But we, poor unfortunate beings with all too mortal hearts that we are, have little control over who we love!"
"She's gone now!" he cries. "It doesn't matter who she loved or didn't! She's gone! I failed her!"
"No! No, John Rolfe, you saved her when no one who could would! You saved her, and though she is gone, you brought what remains of her home to us!" The old tree's branches squeeze him. "And for that, I thank you, John Rolfe! I thank you, and I must go now!"
Her face suddenly disappears, although her vines still sway. Slowly, her vines creep from around him. He hurries to her trunk and feels for her face, but the kind, old woman who had once smiled down at him is gone now. He feels his way around the tree again and again, but she is gone and so, too, is his wife's body.
Muskets fire somewhere nearby, suddenly blazing in the night. They know he's here. It won't be long before they find him. John Rolfe stops and stands still, waiting to be found with tears still streaming down his face. They will find him, but they will never find the Princess he loved, the Princess to whom he devoted himself, the Princess who is, at last, home and at peace with her family. He cries, and through the swaying trees in Jamestown, when it rains in the middle of the night, some people still swear they can hear him crying and the sobs of a woman's voice as well to this very day.