The Yazoo Queen
by Orson Scott Card
[Part of the Alvin Maker series, this story falls chronologically between Heartfire
and The Crystal City.]
Alvin watched as Captain Howard welcomed aboard another group of
passengers, a prosperous family with five children and three slaves.
"It's the Nile River of America," said the captain. "But Cleopatra herself never
sailed in such splendor as you folks is going to experience on the Yazoo
Splendor for the family, thought Alvin. Not likely to be much splendor for the
slaves -- though, being house servants, they'd fare better than the two dozen
runaways chained together in the blazing sun at dockside all afternoon.
Alvin had been keeping an eye on them since he and Arthur Stuart got here to
the Carthage City riverport at eleven. Arthur Stuart was all for exploring, and
Alvin let him go. The city that billed itself as the Phoenicia of the West had
plenty of sights for a boy Arthur's age, even a half-black boy. Since it was on
the north shore of the Hio, there'd be suspicious eyes on him for a runaway.
But there was plenty of free blacks in Carthage City, and Arthur Stuart was no
fool. He'd keep an eye out.
There was plenty of slaves in Carthage, too. That was the law, that a black
slave from the South remained a slave even in a free state. And the greatest
shame of all was those chained-up runaways who got themselves all the way
across the Hio to freedom, only to be picked up by Finders and dragged back in
chains to the whips and other horrors of bondage. Angry owners who'd make
an example of them. No wonder there was so many who killed theirselves, or
Alvin saw wounds on more than a few in this chained-up group of twenty-five,
though many of the wounds could have been made by the slave's own hand.
Finders weren't much for injuring the property they was getting paid to bring
on home. No, those wounds on wrists and bellies were likely a vote for freedom
before life itself.
What Alvin was watching for was to know whether the runaways were going to
be loaded on this boat or another. Most often runaways were ferried across
river and made to walk home over land -- there was too many stories of slaves
jumping overboard and sinking to the bottom with their chains on to make
Finders keen on river transportation.
But now and then Alvin had caught a whiff of talking from the slaves -- not
much, since it could get them a bit of lash, and not loud enough for him to
make out the words, but the music of the language didn't sound like English,
not northern English, not southern English, not slave English. It wasn't likely
to be any African language. With the British waging full-out war on the slave
trade, there weren't many new slaves making it across the Atlantic these days.
So it might be Spanish they were talking, or French. Either way, they'd most
likely be bound for Nueva Barcelona, or New Orleans, as the French still called
Which raised some questions in Alvin's mind. Mostly this one: How could a
bunch of Barcelona runaways get themselves to the state of Hio? That would
have been a long trek on foot, especially if they didn't speak English. Alvin's
wife, Peggy, grew up in an Abolitionist home, with her Papa, Horace Guester,
smuggling runaways across river. Alvin knew something about how good the
Underground Railway was. It had fingers reaching all the way down into the
new duchies of Mizzippy and Alabam, but Alvin never heard of any Spanish- or
French-speaking slaves taking that long dark road to freedom.