Elly Hays is based on real people and real events. She was my 5th great-grandmother, Elizabeth Hays Rodgers. I wrote about her granddaughter in Okatibbee Creek and about her great-granddaughter in An Orphan’s Heart, but I began to wonder where the strength of these women came from, so I backed up in the family tree and found Elly. She lived in the Mississippi Territory, today known as Alabama, in the early 1800s – through a most frightening time when the South was the unsettled frontier and the Creek Indians fought against the Americans for the rights to the land. Not only is this her story, but we also get to see it through the eyes of the Creek warrior, Tafv (pronounced TAH-fuh.)
Elly Hays is told in alternating chapters of Elly’s point of view and Tafv’s point of view, and from the first few chapters, you can sense their will be an epic clash between a warrior with nothing to lose and a young mother on the verge of losing everything.
Below is a snippet of the first meeting between Elly and Tafv’s brother Eto.
She angrily plopped down on a rock and yanked dirty stockings from the basket. She dunked them in the water and began scrubbing them hard enough to put holes in them. She could feel her ears buzzing and her shortness of breath and realized she needed to calm down. She stopped scrubbing, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath through her nose, trying to slow her heart. She concentrated on releasing the tension in her shoulders and the knot in her stomach. She felt guilty for losing her temper with her husband, but frustration was taking over her life. Every day brought new problems—life-and-death problems. Her mounting anger was overriding her fear of the Indians and her love for her husband.
She opened her eyes when she heard him clear his throat behind her, and she turned to apologize for her harsh tone of voice. But when she saw the black eyes looking back at her that did not belong to James, she stopped and gasped. They belonged to an Indian, sitting tall on a brown and white painted horse. She hadn’t heard him approach. She jumped to her feet, wondering where she could run.
The Indian was bare-chested, wearing only tan animal hide pants and moccasins. His hair was short, shaved on the sides and sticking up higher on top. Most of the Indians she had seen had this same haircut. His face was covered with lines of red and black paint, and he wore a headband tied around his head with strips of animal fur hanging on either side of his face. His headband was not adorned with any feathers. This was not the same Indian she had seen before.
He stared at her for a long time and did not move. She glanced across the swift creek to the left and right, but there was nowhere to run. She would never be able to outrun a horse. Her heart beat wildly as beads of sweat broke out on her brow. She remained frozen.
“I came to warn you,” the Indian said in a monotone.
Elly was surprised by his English.
He sat motionless, waiting for her response.
She finally blurted out, “Warn me about what? That you want us to leave? We already got that warning.” She could feel her temper escalating again. All of the tension she had felt the last few months, all of the worry for her children, all of the stress of building a new life, was about to explode in this Indian’s face.
“Yes, I’m here to warn you that you need to leave, but not for the reason you are thinking.” He looked down at the reins in his hands, as if trying to gather his thoughts and find the correct words. “My brother and I were the ones who killed your animals.”
Elly threw a wet stocking on the ground. She hadn’t realized she was still holding it, and it had dripped down her blue linen skirt, causing the front of her dress to become dark in color. “You? You did that? How am I supposed to feed my children?” she raised her voice, her temper becoming stronger than her fear.
“This is the least of your worries. When your husband chased us away, my brother’s boy fell from his horse and snapped his neck.” His eyes carried a tint of sadness. “The boy is dead.”
Elly felt her heart soften for a young boy she didn’t even know. Her anger began to subside, as if it were being washed away by the babbling creek beside her. “I’m…I’m very sorry to hear that,” she stammered, wringing her wet hands together.
“You must understand, my brother is the great warrior of our village. He has vowed revenge on your husband and your family for the death of his son.”
Elly’s eyes widened as the Indian continued.
“He told our Great Chief your husband killed his son, and the Great Chief has given him permission to slaughter your family.”
Elly was shocked by the revelation and quickly shook her head. “No. My…my husband would never kill a boy. He’s never killed anyone, for any reason.”
“Our great warrior does not know this.”
“Please tell him. Tell him my husband didn’t kill his son.” She took a step forward as she begged.
The Indian shook his head and looked at her with compassion. “I cannot tell him anything. I can only warn you. You must leave now…before it’s too late.”
Elly placed her hand over her mouth as tears stung her eyes. Her body began to tremble, and she turned her face toward the creek so the Indian would not see her cry. After a moment, she composed herself, wiped her cheek with the back of her hand, and turned back toward the Indian, but he was gone. She looked left and right through the trees, but it seemed he had simply vanished as quickly as he had appeared.
Elly Hays is available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon.
Elly Hays received Honorable Mention in the 2013 Great Midwest Book Festival, it was on the short list of “50 self-published books worth reading 2013/14” at Indie Author Land, and the cover was a semi-finalist in the 2014 Authorsdb Book Cover Contest. It is the third book of the Okatibbee Creek Series, following Okatibbee Creek and An Orphan’s Heart.