The Strait : Chapter 6 : Katabwe continues
(1934 - 1985)
Fredy Perlman (August 20, 1934 – July 26, 1985) was an American author, publisher, professor, and activist. His most popular work, the book Against His-Story, Against Leviathan!, details the rise of state domination with a retelling of history through the Hobbesian metaphor of the Leviathan. Though Perlman detested ideology and claimed that the only "-ist" he would respond to was "cellist," his work as an author and publisher has been influential on modern anarchist thought. (From : Wikipedia.org.)
In Kekionga, and at last in Bison Prairie, I was made much of, as were the other warriors who had fought on the Kanawha. We were lauded, not for our artful retreat, but for our victory ; we had dared to attack the league of Witchburners, Slavers and Cheaters, we had routed scalper Ua-shn-tn’s front lines, a feat as yet unequaled by all the Redcoat armies.
The league was on everyone’s lips; its frightful coherence was the subject of every council. Unfortunately, the army that would confront the monster was slow in forming; the Peninsula’s kin lacked coherence, not because they were all guided by different visions, but because, like the Invaders, they were guided by none.
Nanikibi’s sister Namakwe came to Bison Prairie with her Bati and the others who had stopped off on the Strait, including Mini and Aleshi, and with two warriors from the Turtleleague who came on a mission, but not their own, and brought belts, but not warbelts.
The Turtleleague warriors were sad figures. Their league was broken; it had split precisely at the moment when thirteen gangs of Oceanshore Invaders formed a league. I already knew that the Turtleleague had allied with one Invader against the other once too often; after helping the Redcoats defeat the Blackrobes and Lemond, the Turtleleague warriors had found their allies helping themselves to Turtleleague lands and fields, destroying warriors with rum and treating them as underlings. I now learned that some Turtleleague warriors turned to the landgangs for protection against the Redcoats while the rest turned to their red allies for protection against the landgangs. Warriors who had once boasted that free human beings went wherever they pleased were no longer free.
The two in Bison Prairie came on an embassy for the Redcoats; they urged the warriors in Bison Prairie to accept the Redcoats’ peacebelts now that the Redcoats were beset by new enemies.
I wondered, and surely Nanikibi wondered, if these broken warriors were heirs of Yahatase’s kin, if these sad messengers were the fierce Serpents against whom Blackrobes had fumed, against whom Winamek had formed a league of western Rootkin. The saddest and strangest thing of all was that the one person who would have accepted their belts was Winamek’s grandson Nagmo, but Nagmo was in Mishilimakina with his younger son Winamek and with my Topinbi, delivering furs to the Redcoats.
Nanikibi and other Firekeepers turned their backs to the emissaries. Bison Prairie’s warriors had defeated every army the Redcoats had sent against them, and had no reason to submit to a peace offered by them.
I felt closer to Nanikibi than I ever had before. He knew something Lokaskwe knew, something Oashi had known: our strength was in what we gave, not in what we took; it was in our ceremonies and our songs, in the powers given to us by earth, in the guidance given by our dream animals. Tears came to my eyes when he brought out the contents of his bundle and begged me for the songs and stories more familiar to me, thanks to Miogwewe, than to Ozagi’s son: the feather of the first Binesikwe, whose namesake I was to be; the disintegrating piece of bark scroll with marks as vanished as the world it had described; the shell and the fishbones and the otterskin itself, with their promise of giving, of renewal to come from the inaccessible, invaded Oceanshore.
Namakwe was enraged by Nanikibi’s and my absence from the council with the Turtleleague warriors, by our indifference to their mission. Bati and Aleshi supported her, and even Mini, though not wholeheartedly. Namakwe’s rage was hysterical; she exaggerated and she gesticulated, just like those of Lemond, whose close neighbor she was. Namakwe divided the world into two halves: one half consisted of her kin of Karontaen allied with the Strait’s Redcoats; the other half consisted of Scalper Ua-shn-tn and his league of landgangs. She said her brother couldn’t turn his back to both halves because there was nowhere else to turn.
I heard Namakwe with dismay; I would have been like her if I hadn’t grown alongside Lenapi, Oashi and Lokaskwe.
She spoke of her three children, of her nieces, twin daughters of Batf s brother Pier, of Minfs and Nizokwe’s Isador and Isabel. She said most of the Strait’s children looked up to fathers and uncles who had made a blood pact and never broken it until now.
She said all these warriors had responded to Shawano’s call after the murder of Oashi and had bravely faced a monster on the Kanawha. They had returned from the Kanawha intent on forming an army that could confront the monster and had sat in a council with all those who had fought in the war against the enclosures: Turtlefolk of the Strait, Rootkin of Kichigami, Kekionga Prairiekin, carriers from Sandusky below the Strait and from the Leaning Tree village above it, as well as Turtleleague warriors from the eastern Woodlands. The former enemy, the new headman of the Strait’s Redcoats, named Ham- tin, had come to this council with words, belts, deeds.
With words, Ham-tin had committed himself to keeping all Invaders out of the Beautiful Valley. Mini added that this was a commitment to continuing the fur trade with the Valley’s Rootkin, for this trade fattened the fur gangs behind the Redcoats, gangs which had already reduced the former northern Invaders to gatherers and haulers of pelts hunted by Rootkin.
With belts, Ham-tin committed himself to war against Scalper Ua-shn-tn’s league.
And with deeds, Ham-tin had already curbed the greed of some of his own Redcoats, who had tried to take Rattlesnake Isle and other common grounds away from the Strait’s inhabitants. Mini told us that the Redcoats had denuded Rattlesnake Isle after the war against the enclosures, on the pretext that its trees offered hiding places to hostile warriors, and had then granted the entire island to Lemond’s Decuand, to reward him for his collaboration. The indignant villagers persuaded Tisha’s father, Kampo, to fight for the return of the island to the inhabitants. Kampo was threatened with the loss of all he had, and the island was taken from Decuand and given to a Redcoat. Ham-tin returned the island to the Strait’s inhabitants only when he needed an army to confront Scalper Ua-shn-tn.
Mini was less enthusiastic than Namakwe about the good intentions of headman Ham-tin, but he too divided the world into the same two halves. He saw no alternative to an alliance with the Redcoats; he too was upset by the absence from the Strait’s council of Shawano and the Southbranch kin, Nanikibi and the Bison Prairie Firekeepers, Sigenak, Jozes, Tisha and the Wabash Prairiekin.
Failing in their mission, dismayed by the indifference, even hostility, of their own kin, Namakwe and the Strait’s warriors drew closer to the redfrocked headman of the Strait’s enclosure, whom they considered a doubtful but necessary ally, a source of weapons and provisions somewhat less reliable than Lemond’s Lekomanda had been earlier.
When I saw Mini again, he said the Strait’s warriors could no longer envision fighting with wood and stone. They learned that the Scalpers at the Pit-strength were moving toward the Strait and they set out toward the Fork armed with the Redcoats’ weapons, expecting to be strengthened along the way by warriors from among the Southbranch kin and the Eastbranch survivors. Again they were disappointed. Shawano and his kin persisted in viewing both Scalpers and Redcoats as enemies, even if the two were momentarily at each other’s throats, and of the two, Shawano feared the long-unifled Redcoats more than he feared the thirteen recently-unified Oceanshore gangs. The Strait’s warriors were even more dismayed by the false neutrality of the Eastbranch survivors gathered around blackcollared Brethren on the Tuscarawas: they were used as spies and messengers, as Brother Post-err had been used earlier by Redcoats; villagers told Brethren of the doings of their kin, Brethren seeking provisions at the Pit-strength told Scalpers what they’d heard, and returned to the Tuscarawas with the Scalpers’ good words.
The western warriors were isolated in this sea of indifference and outnumbered by their enemies; they returned to the Strait without attempting to seize the enclosure at the Fork, their only consolation being that the Pit-strength Scalpers had been similarly unable to gather forces for an assault on the Strait. But a surprise awaited the Strait’s warriors. They learned that another Scalper army, one led by a landsucker known as Rah-jerks-lark, had reached the western part of the Beautiful Valley, had not been stopped by Sigenak and Prairie warriors, and had been allowed to establish a stronghold on the Wabash.
Seen through Namakwe’s eyes, Sigenak had turned his back on past and kin and had thrown himself into an adventure that could only engulf Wagoshkwe’s children in fratricidal war. But I knew that Sigenak was doing what he had always done, he was trying to revive my father’s alliance, Wagoshkwe’s alliance, with those near at hand. Namakwe was doing the same thing, only with those near to her.
Sigenak lodged near the great mound at Cahokia on the Long River with Manato and their six sons; he maintained close contact with Magda’s son Tisha, already married and with a daughter in Uiatanon on the Wabash, his mother’s birthplace, and engaged in the fur trade between Kittihawa’s Sandypoint and the southwestern Invaders on the other side of the Long River, called Senyores. Sigenak was also in contact with Tisha’s uncle Jozes, who maintained a fur post in the Prairie village Kithepekanu near Uiatanon.
For Sigenak, the war against the enclosures had never ended, and he took part in the frequent raids of Prairiekin against Redcoats, rumcarriers and landsuckers who ventured into the valley of the Wabash. In one of these raids, Sigenak captured a youth named Will-well, the age of his oldest son, and adopted him. The raiders, Prairiekin allied with Plains warriors and armed by the shadowy Senyores, were in Sigenak’s eyes the heirs of Wagoshkwe’s Redearth warriors.
When the Scalpers under Rah-jerks-lark reached the Wabash, Sigenak and other Prairie warriors who had known of the Invaders’ approach placed themselves in their path as Nagmo had once placed himself in the path of the Redcoats who came to Bison Prairie. But then Sigenak and the Prairie warriors fell into a trap. This Rah-jerks-lark was a consummate liar; he styled himself a renegade from the Oceanshore Invaders, an ally of the shadowy Senyores, and a friend of all who opposed Redcoats. Knowing nothing of the Scalpers’ invasion of the Sunrise Mountains or of the massacres on the Kanawha, Sigenak and the Prairie warriors let the self-styled renegades install themselves in the Uiatanon enclosure whose redfrocked occupants Sigenak had helped oust a generation earlier.
As soon as this news reached the Strait, Redcoat Ham-tin decided to set out against Rah-jerks-lark, but very few of the Strait’s warriors agreed to accompany him. Enraged by what they considered Sigenak’s betrayal, Mini, Aleshi, Batf and others nevertheless refused to shed the blood of kin alongside whom they had fought. Headman Ham-tin’s undisguised contempt for Rootkin, something he shared with his forerunner Bra-duck as well as his enemy Ua-shn-tn, drove away many of the warriors who did start out with him, so that Ham-tin walked to Uiatanon all but alone, as intrepid as his predecessor on the Strait, muleheaded Mad-win. Redcoat Ham-tin tried to enlighten Sigenak and the Prairiekin about the Scalpers’ intentions, but he met only hostility. Completely isolated in every quarter, the pathetic Ham-tin let himself be captured by the Scalpers, whereupon Rah-jerks-lark sent out runners with the message that he had captured an army of Redcoats allied with western Rootkin.
The force that finally moved to dislodge the Scalpers from the Prairies did not originate on the Strait but in the north, in Mishilimakina and the Leaning Tree village, and it was led by my uncle Nagmo. The northern carriers, many, like Nagmo himself, in red coats, would not shy away from fratricidal war; they were heirs of warriors who had fought without qualms against kin alongside Winamek and alongside Wabskeni, and they viewed the Cahokians as their traditional enemies, Redearth kin, western Serpents.
Nagmo’s armed carriers arrived in Bison Prairie accompanied by an unarmed gift caravan which included his two sons and their women, my Topinbi and his newly-named daughter Mimikwe, as well as a Cheater from the Oceanshore named Burr-net. Nagmo began his fratricidal war by capturing Kit- tihawa’s Sandypoint on the Lakebottom during the naming ceremony for Sandypoint’s first son. This capture of Katwyn’s friend, of a man who, like Nagmo himself, was a crosswearer and a gift carrier, was incomprehensible to me and Nanikibi and Bison Prairie’s Firekeepers, until we remembered the connection between the armed carriers and the unarmed gift caravan.
Sandypoint had been gathering furs on the Lakebottom and sending them, with Tisha’s and Sigenak’s help, not to Mishilimakina and thence to Hochelaga, but to Cahokia on the Long River and thence to Senyores in the southwest and to Lemond’s kin at the Long River’s mouth. Nagmo and his sons, as well as my Topinbi and Nizokwe’s brother Anto and his friend Soli-man, were all embroiled with Hochelaga fur gangs who insisted that all furs gathered in Mishigami follow the traditional route established by the first Nangisi.
The Hochelaga fur gang had been waiting for a pretext to stop Sandypoint from sending pelts to other fur gangs; the war between Redcoats and Scalpers and news of Rah-jerks-lark’s success on the Wabash gave them that pretext. Sandypoint was captured as an enemy and escorted by Nagmo’s younger son Winamek to Mishilimakina’s headman Star-ling, the rumcarrier who had married Aleshi’s sister Anjelik.
The Cheater Burr-net was to replace Sandypoint as the region’s fur-gatherer; he would send pelts to Mishilimakina, with the help of Topinbi and Nagmo’s sons, and he would distribute gifts more generously than Sandypoint, for his gifts, made not by free people but by contrivances operated by people enclosed in hives, were more plentiful. The capture was carried out as a ritual, almost tenderly: my multi-lingual Cakima translated for Burr-net as he begged for Sandypoint’s permission to store furs at the Lakebottom post, permission which Sandypoint granted as he welcomed Burr-net and told him there was room enough in Mishigami for both of them. Burr-net even prepared talking leaves for the brothers Anto in Mishilimakina and Pier on the Strait assuring them of Sandypoint’s harmlessness to the northern fur gang.
Nagmo didn’t do as well in Cahokia. Although his well- supplied force didn’t disintegrate, it was outnumbered, not by the noisy Rah-jerks-lark, whose force vanished as completely as Ham-tin’s, but by Sigenak’s allies: Prairiekin allied with mounted Plains warriors, armed by Senyores, and aided by a surprise that neither Nagmo nor anyone else had anticipated. A Lekomanda Labam had come up from the mouth of the Long River with an army of Scabeaters, precisely the army Lemond had waited and longed for twenty winters earlier, when the Redcoats had first approached the Strait, only Labam’s army came as allies of the Scalpers because their overman across the Ocean, like Sigenak, was still warring against the Redcoats. This unlikely alliance destroyed Nagmo’s army, killed Nagmo, and promptly disintegrated. Nagmo, the last heir of Winamek’s league, had been the only person in Cahokia with whom Labam had anything in common. A crosswearer accompanied by Blackrobes, loyal to his overseas overman, hostile to renegades, Lekomanda Labam shared no more than a common enemy with Rah-jerks-lark, who spat on crosses, despised Blackrobes and recognized no overman other than the landgangs; Labam shared even less with Sigenak and Prairiekin who had loved the Scabeaters no more than they loved the Scalpers.
Flushed with the victory over Nagmo, and so contemptuous of his allies that he attributed the victory to himself, Labam set out to complete his mission and defeat the remaining Redcoats on the western Lakes, but he set out alone, with no more men than he arrived with except a few scouts, among them Tisha.
Tisha told his uncle Jozes of his engagement. Jozes sent a warning to the Strait. Aleshi and other warriors met Labam’s army in Kekionga, but not in time to save Kekionga’s lodges from destruction. Aleshi and the Strait’s warriors killed Labam and destroyed the force they would have embraced with unqualified joy a generation earlier.
Tisha guided a remnant of Labam’s army to Bison Prairie. He found refuge in my and Nanikibi’s lodge and promptly sent word to Sigenak of Sandypoint’s capture and Labam’s defeat.
The Cahokians’ revenge against Aleshi was not long in coming, but it was a cowardly revenge, unworthy of Sigenak and Prairie warriors. The Cahokians set out, not toward Aleshi and the Strait’s warriors responsible for Labam’s defeat, but toward dead Nagmo’s kin in Bison Prairie, where Sigenak knew they would find no opposition; even Nagmo’s sons were away when the Cahokians arrived. It was clear that Sigenak was no more anxious than the Strait’s warriors to shed the blood of kin. And it wasn’t clear whose blood Sigenak’s allies wanted to shed. As soon as they entered Bison Prairie they turned on each other.
The survivors of Labam’s army and the few Cahokians who with pride traced their parentage to Lemond were eager to avenge Labam; they wanted to raze Bison Prairie to the ground, as Labam had razed Kekionga. They were supported by Plains Redearth kin who remembered Bison Prairie as the stronghold from which Wabskeni’s armies annihilated the brave Redearth warriors, but were opposed by carriers and fur-gatherers who wanted nothing destroyed, who wanted to install themselves in Burr-net’s and Sandypoint’s fur posts, who wanted the furs that Sandypoint no longer brought to their posts.
The few Senyores who came with Sigenak were eager to leave as soon as they arrived; they wanted only to plant their flag and run off with booty; their eyes grew large with greed for the contrivance-made cloth and metal objects in Burr-net’s store.
Sigenak’s adopted son Will-well, fluent in the language of Rootkin, was the only defender of Rah-jerks-lark among the allies; his sole desire was to convince us that Oashi’s murderers were liberators from the oppression of Redcoats. Sigenak’s oldest son, Meteya, had stayed in Cahokia, refusing to take part in an expedition against the village of his father’s brother. The three sons who came with Sigenak—Gizes, Wapmimi and Wakaya—wanted to please and impress their Bison Prairie kin, and exerted all their efforts trying to keep their father’s allies from each other’s throats and from doing harm to any of us.
At the Firekeepers’ council, Sigenak tried to excuse and even praise his allies, but his words described an altogether different entity than the army he brought. He spoke of an alliance powerful enough to push all Invaders into the Ocean, of the alliance he’d been seeking since the day my father attacked the Kekionga enclosure, of Wagoshkwe’s alliance. He told us the Senyores in his army were not Invaders but descendants of the Stonelodge people who in Yahatase’s day ousted all Invaders from their valleys and mountains. He said the Blackrobe with the Senyores was not kin to the Blackrobes who had imprisoned Yahatase. This man, a follower of an ancient Blackrobe who had urged the invaded to rise up against the Invaders, raged against all the justifications with which Invaders covered their deeds, insisted that no pretext, no reason whatever could justify the oppression and slaughter of some people by others, and praised all those who had risen, among them the Stonelodge people, the Redearth kin, people called Tupakamaru who had just risen against Senyores at the opposite end of the world, as well as Rah-jerks-lark’s half among the Oceanshore Invaders.
Sigenak was strong with words, but his armed allies were visibly unfit to face the Strait’s warriors and Redcoats, or even Bison Prairie’s Firekeepers; those who weren’t prostrated from bouts with rum were bickering with each other. Sigenak’s immediate task was not to push Invaders to the salt sea, but to satisfy the greed of his allies while keeping them from harming his kin, no easy task.
Some of the Senyores wanted to plunder Sandypoint’s store at the Lakebottom, which was protected only by little crosswearer Kittihawa; they had to be reminded that they had come to revenge the capture of Sandypoint, not to consummate it. Senyores and carriers wanted to plunder dead Nagmo’s lodge, which contained the greatest wealth of objects in Mishigami, but Kittihawa came to her cousin Katwyn’s defense, insisting that Katwyn was Sandypoint’s most loyal friend.
This left only Burr-net’s store, and all of the allies, including Sigenak, converged on this object for plunder, eager to carry off the furs, the gifts, and Burr-net himself, as retaliation for the capture of Sandypoint. Such a deed would not have been a fit monument to Wagoshkwe, nor worthy of Sigenak. But it did not take place. My and Nanikibi’s children Topinbi and Cakima prevented the deed before any of Sigenak’s allies had acted, and they prevented it with a ruse, like Rootkin; I suspect the ruse originated with Cakima. I was proud of both, in spite of my dislike for the object of their victory, a cheating rumcarrier.
Topinbi and Cakima had heard all the stories and songs about Ozagi’s adoption of Wagoshkwe and her Redearth kin in the face of Wabskeni’s army. Topinbi invited all in Bison Prairie and on the Lakebottom, including Sigenak and his allies, to celebrate the marriage of Cakima with Burr-net. The enemy, the object for plunder, became Sigenak’s nephew, and many of Sigenak’s allies, those who weren’t drunk, left Bison Prairie.
Seventeen-spring Cakima made up in energy what she lacked in beauty. She asked her crosswearing aunts to help with the arrangements, but Kittihawa was all taken up with Sandypoint’s post and Katwyn was mourning the death of Nagmo, so Cakima took on all the arrangements herself. She was everywhere at once, fluently speaking every language except that of the Senyores; she was Burr-net’s window to the world of Rootkin; she had learned his language from the rumcarrier Con-err on the Muskingum.
In great-grandmother Miogwewe’s day, the adopted Pyerwa, Mini’s grandfather, had felt obliged to learn the language of his hosts. But this Burr-net seemed to feel no such obligation; he was mute; Topinbi and Cakima were obliged to speak to him in the Invaders’ tongue. If the spirit of Shutaha was present at this adoption, it could only have been dismayed. Cakima arranged the ceremony of three fires, the only part of which Burr-net seemed to understand was the part to which he contributed: the rum-drinking. It wasn’t a ceremony in which Bison Prairie’s Firekeepers adopted Burr-net, but rather one in which Burr-net adopted the Firekeepers as well as the hostile remaining Cahokians. He was the host. Cakima knew this. It was this that she had arranged. My daughter was a descendant of the first Nangisi, the carrier who used the ways of Rootkin as things with which to enhance his power among Rootkin.
Neither Nanikibi nor I could understand why both of our children were fascinated by a cheating rumcarrier who seemed to have no praiseworthy qualities. Lenapi’s insights didn’t help me: he had spoken of people who were debilitated and trapped; my Topinbi and Cakima were strong and free. The closest I could come to understanding them was to imagine that in their eyes they were becoming important in a league that was larger and more powerful than the first Winamek’s, a league whose warriors carried invisible weapons (well-hidden members, Miogwewe would have said). That was why my Topinbi as well as Katwyn’s two sons Nangisi and Winamek, so well-named, felt no need to prove their prowess as warriors with visible weapons; they were peacemakers, innocents all, yet more powerful than armed warriors, and they knew their own powers while no one else knew them. Privation, misery and death were near the root of their powers. The death of Nagmo, their own beloved uncle Nagmo from whom they’d learned so much, was not a loss for Topinbi and Cakima but a gain. Topinbi and Cakima inherited the position first occupied by ancient Nangisi; they became the intermediaries between the animals in the forest and the gifts of the Invaders. With Sandypoint gone, Topinbi and Cakima, together with Katwyn’s sons, reached over the entire length of Mishigami from Greenbay to the Lakebottom along both shores. The rumcarrier Burr-net connected them with the part of the gift-giving league that lodged in the Invaders’ world, for Burr-net was linked to Nizokwe’s brother Anto and to Soli-man in Mishilimakina and to Nizokwe’s musical brothers on the Strait, Pier and Bati, Namakwe’s Bati; they in turn carried their bundles to fur gangs on both sides of the Ocean. Soli-man, married to a crosswearing Turtlewoman from the Bay of Rolling White Sands, had connections with fur gangs in Hochelaga and with fur gangs of three different tongues across the Ocean. Pier, a father of twin girls, had connections with a fur gang headman on the Strait who came from among the Witchbumers, a man called Jay- may who had raised his trading post on land given to him by Soli-man’s cousin Shap-man, the rumcarrier unsuccessfully adopted by Bison Prairie’s Firekeepers. It was said Shap-man had acquired land on the Strait by feeding rum to one of the Bison Prairie warriors who had escorted him to the Strait, and by having the drunken warrior put a mark on a talking leaf.
Miogwewe had been wary of Winamek’s noisy and very visible league. I wondered who among my kin was as wary of this silent, invisible and insidious league: perhaps Mashekewis in Boweting, perhaps Mini on the Strait, certainly Lokaskwe in the Valley—and who else?
Cakima’s marriage celebration ended abruptly. The smallpox broke out in Bison Prairie, among the children. Topinbi’s baby Mimikwe was stricken, as well as Nangisi’s Manilu and Winamek’s Miaga. Siegnak’s drunken allies were ignored, all enmities were forgotten; Katwyn and I nursed grandchildren alongside each other. The children began to recover; I started to think we were at last gaining the immunity that was the strength of the Invaders. But then Katwyn succumbed to the swellings, and she failed to recover.
Sigenak and his sons, as well as Tisha, were still in Bison Prairie when a tall and proud warrior arrived from the Strait, cousin Mini’s son Isador, with the news that the smallpox had not attacked only our village. Nanikibi and I took Isador into our lodge, to share a corner with his enemy Tisha; Pyerwa’s great-grandson and Manyan’s grandson were, after all, cousins. Tisha was upset by the arrangement; Isador was too preoccupied to notice Tisha’s presence.
Isador said Labam’s army had carried the smallpox in its train, perhaps unintentionally. After defeating Labam’s army, Aleshi and the Strait’s warriors, Mini and Isador among them, had gathered up the weapons and provisions abandoned by the defeated, and had distributed them among the Kekiongans who had taken refuge on the Strait. The smallpox had immediately broken out on the Strait.
Tisha vehemently denied that Labam’s army was to blame; Labam had earlier distributed gifts and provisions in Cahokia, and no one had fallen to the pox.
Isador didn’t insist; he had yet more news. His face as rigid as a mask, suppressing tears with all his inner strength, Isador told us there were numerous refugees from the Turtleleague on the Strait. Shutaha’s eastern kin, ancient Yahatase’s people, the once fierce Serpents of the eastern Woodlands, had been all but exterminated by the landgang alliance under Scalper Ua- shn-tn. I felt as if I’d heard that a corner of the world had fallen through a hole; it was inconceivable. Thirteen mutually hostile bands of Scalpers had united in the fashion of the Turtleleague at the moment when the Turtleleague had split into mutually hostile bands, some allied with one, few with the other, most allied with none and neutral at last.
On the pretext that some Turtlewarriors were allied with Redcoats, Scalper Ua-shn-tn declared war against the entire Turtleleague, and he charged an unscrupulous killer, a headman Sullied-van, with the task of extermination. At the head of a vast army of thirsty landsuckers and greedy bountyseekers, headman Sullied-van set out, not against the Turtlewarriors allied with Redcoats, but against the unprepared, against the neutrals, against those who were planting, hunting, dancing, and not seeking any more allies or enemies. After filling their bags with the scalps of the unarmed, the Scalpers became demented with murderous frenzy; they set fire to forests with all their living beings, burned fields and villages. Next they turned, not against the Redcoats’ allies but against their own, against Turtlefolk who had helped Scalpers against Redcoats, and they murdered all, the old, the women, the children, and then they set fires, intent on leaving no life in the eastern Woodlands, on denuding that part of the world. The only Turtlefolk the Scalpers didn’t confront were those they had declared war against, those actually allied with the Redcoats, those who were armed and ready, but the devastation had destroyed these warriors as well, leaving the Turtlewarriors isolated among their redfrocked allies, without villages or kin to defend. Never before could a great people have vanished so suddenly.
Isador was still narrating the horrors when all three of Oashi’s and Lokaskwe’s children arrived in Bison Prairie: Aptegizhek with a bandaged head and clutching Lenapi’s scroll, Shecogosikwe wearing Miogwewe’s pendant, her eyes filled with terror, and young Wagoshkwe shaking with fear. Lokaskwe, my dearest friend and only sister, was dead; Shawano was dead; Aptegizhek’s head was bandaged because he’d been scalped.
The tears Isador had suppressed now burst from his eyes. He had never met his cousin, but he embraced Aptegizhek with all his strength; the pact their fathers had made was renewed with the two youths’ tears. Isador already knew some of what Aptegizhek told us; he no longer made the effort to hide his sadness.
The Scalpers under Ua-shn-tn proceeded as if unerring seers guided their every step. After headman Sullied-van’s devastating attack, surviving Turtlewarriors, those who had been ready to meet the Scalpers, set out with a fury equaled only by Sullied-van’s. These few hundred homeless and kinless men demented by sorrow, destroyed and burned every lodge, field and tame animal between the Eastern River and the Sunrise Mountains, from the Northern River to the Pit-strength^ Ua-shn-tn and his landgang council, as if they had been waiting for this retaliation, roused their own people to raging hatred by spreading lurid stories of the Turtlewarriors’ brutality amplified with details from Sullied-van’s atrocities, and promptly declared war, not against the raging Turtlewarriors, but against the Rootkin of the Beautiful Valley.
The landgangs justified the scalping of captives by convincing themselves Rootkin ate their captives. Their council now tried to discourage its armed men from taking the scalps of women and children, not because of a sudden outburst of humanity but because of unwillingness to cover the bounties; the council was interested in the killing, not the scalping or eating.
But the armed men depended on the bounties. They poured across the Sunrise Mountains into the valley’s Southland all the way to the Beautiful River’s falls near its mouth at the Long River, drawn that far by all they had heard of Rah-jerks-lark’s single-handed victory over Ham-tin’s Redcoats. Wherever they went they avoided armed warriors, pounced on villages with absent hunters, gathered the scalps of women and children, burned fields, lodges and stores of corn. On the Muskingum, Shawano, still believing the unity of the thirteen Oceanshore bands was temporary, still convinced he could council with some among the Scalpers, even after the loss of all his near kin, led an embassy to the Pit-strength to hold the Invaders to their promises. He was told the headman was willing to council. Once inside the enclosure, Shawano and all his companions were murdered.
Aptegizhek was interrupted by the arrival of news of yet another tragedy. Sigenak’s oldest, Meteya, came to tell his father and brothers and Tisha that the smallpox had broken out in Cahokia. Manato and Sigenak’s youngest sons, Kulswa and Pilawa, had gone to the Prairie village Kithepekanu on the Wabash, where a Blackrobe had taken Tisha’s two children, Liket and baby Jozes, their mother being dead. In nearby Uiatanon, Rah-jerks-lark and his band were terrorizing the inhabitants, threatening and plundering. Meteya said the smallpox had been brought by Rah-jerks-lark from the east, or by Senyores from the west, or by Labam from the south. Tisha didn’t protest; he and Sigenak and their remaining allies rushed out of Bison Prairie.
The rest of what Aptegizhek told wasn’t known to Isador. The news of Shawano’s death, murdered while seeking peace despite the loss of all his kin, had spread like fire to every village of Southbranch and Eastbranch kin. Everywhere neutrality ended; everyone was exasperated with peacemakers; all who could walk painted themselves and joined war councils. One such council, held at Sandusky Bay, included Isador, Manf, Bati, Aleshi and others from the Strait. Only three or four villages remained neutral, and these had in them largely Eastbranch survivors who were afraid of vanishing altogether.
Dead Shawano’s village on the Muskingum, where Lokaskwe and her children lived with Southbranch kin and with many of the survivors from Lenapi’s Sunrise Mountain village, was away from the main paths followed by warriors, furs, rum and rifles, was defended and protected by earth, trees, animals and ceremonies, was rich in meaning and self-respect but poor in corn and meat.
The camp that had grown up around Magidins’ and Con- err’s fur and gift post on the Tuscarawas did not thrive. Hunters took few furs to Con-err, who traveled to the Pit-strength rarely, with little to give and less to tell, and he returned with few gifts for Rootkin.
The village, or rather group of villages of Eastbranch converts and blackcollared Brethren on the Tuscarawas, was on one of the main paths through the Beautiful Valley toward the mountain passes, and these villagers maintained their neutrality by giving help to both sides: villagers fed neighboring Southbranch warriors with their corn and vegetables, for they had much to give, while Brethren carried news of the warriors to the Scalpers at the Fork.
Informed by the Brethren, a band of Scalpers attacked a village whose men had left to join the warriors at Sandusky, scalped women and children, burned lodges and food stocks, and then moved to the Beautiful River to join Rah-jerks-lark, who intended to make a swath of destruction in the Beautiful Valley on his way to the Strait.
Isador and the Sandusky warriors knew of this plan, and they met and surprised the Scalper band before it reached the Beautiful River, but they failed to surprise Rah-jerks-lark, who had been warned by messages originating with the Brethren.
Exasperated by the odd neutrality of the Brethren, the Strait’s warriors sent a party to the Tuscarawas to capture the blackcollared men and escort them peacefully to the Strait.
And then a rumor came that Rah-jerks-lark intended to make his swath, modeled on Sullied-van’s, along the Tuscarawas. The Eastbranch converts were terrified; they all knew of the slaughter of Brethren’s converts by the Pox-tn Boys a generation earlier. They hurriedly abandoned their neat lodges, gardens and unharvested fields and fled to the neutral kin of Lokaskwe’s village, away from all main paths. Lokaskwe’s kin welcomed and lodged the refugees, but had barely enough food for themselves in the war-surrounded village, and little to spare for the hundred guests. Ninety or so of the converts, accompanied by Lokaskwe, Aptegizhek and other Eastbranch kin, resolved to return to the Tuscarawas, with their talking leaves and their children, to harvest the corn in the fields and hide it at some distance from their village.
Before leaving her village, Lokaskwe told Aptegizhek to care for his father’s scroll, as if she already knew she was going to die at the hand of those she might have grown among.
The unarmed converts had barely reached the baskets with which to gather their corn when a group of armed men entered the village: pioneers, Kre-sops, Ua-shn-tns, murderers of Oashi. Aptegizhek had never before seen them on a manhunt. The armed men herded the Eastbranch kin like tame animals into several lodges. Aptegizhek was separated from his mother. Only one voice among the armed men spoke of the helplessness and innocence of the converts; the others greedily eyed the harnesses, clothing, tools and other objects made by the converts. One man stroked Aptegizhek’s head and spoke of the large bounties given for such plentiful scalps. Another took a metal mallet and lowered it on the head of an old woman with a prayer on her lips and a bundle of talking leaves in her hand. Aptegizhek lost consciousness. When he opened his eyes, his head pained; he saw a sight too horrible to describe; he saw a scalped head rise from among the mangled dead, their eyes met but neither recognized the other. An armed man rushed in, saw the moving head, beat it down and continued beating with demented frenzy, as if he were the cornered victim. Aptegizhek pretended to be dead; when the voices moved away, he loosened a board and slipped out the rear of the lodge, toward bushes. He heard loud talk and laughter. He saw the killers gather their plunder, set fire to the lodges filled with the bloody scalped bodies, and ride away on their victims’ horses.
The youth made his way to the Muskingum village; his very appearance spread the news of the massacre to every remaining village on the Muskingum and the Tuscarawas, and all the villages dispersed. Terrified Southbranch and Eastbranch kin fled westward, hundreds of them toward the Strait, including Lokaskwe’s sister Magidins and the rumcarrier Con-err and their children. Young Shecogosikwe and Wagoshkwe pulled their scalped brother as far from the place of the massacre as they could reach, toward their aunt Katabwe and their father’s pact-brother Nanikibi.
I was too shaken to comfort Lokaskwe’s children. I kept seeing my dream’s eagle, that contrivance with a metal beak and steel claws, hovering above Rootkin disarmed, enclosed and disabled like the Brethren’s converts, exposed on bare earth denuded of all shelter, shade and refuge. I saw the contrivance swoop down on its helpless victims and cut them to pieces with its metal beak and claws before flying off, its beak filled with scalps.
Lokaskwe’s daughters fled yet further, toward the outermost edge of the world known to Shecogosikwe, toward her birthplace, the Lakebottom, and into Kittihawa’s lodge.
Aptegizhek stayed with Isador, Nanikibi and me. We didn’t need to council with our Bison Prairie kin. All who heard the youth headed toward the war councils on the Strait, all except Cakima, who stayed with the kinsman of Lokaskwe’s murderers. Even Topinbi came with us, but only to deliver Burr-net’s horses and furs to the Strait.
I no longer cared who my allies were; I was determined to answer for Oashi and Lokaskwe; they now lived only in me.
The Strait had more people on it than any place I’ve ever seen; there was no room for plants or animals. At least a thousand human beings were crowded into the adjacent villages; there were refugees and warriors from every part of the embattled Beautiful Valley, from the Sunrise Mountains, from the eastern Woodlands, from the Wabash, from every corner of the world. Namakwe and Bati barely had room for Nanikibi and me. Aptegizhek was welcomed by Nizokwe and Mini. Nizokwe’s daughter Isabel embraced Lokaskwe’s maimed son as warmly as Nizokwe’s son had in Bison Prairie.
I was burning to set out against the Scalpers in the Beautiful Valley and had no sympathy for the problems of the refugees; every delay increased my impatience.
The surviving converts, their Brethren, Magidins and many of Lenapi’s remaining kin were as terror-stricken as Lokaskwe’s daughters, and they too wanted to go far from the place of the massacre. Rootkin from Sagi Bay guided them to a marsh covered by dense brush along the shore of the Clear Lake north of the Strait, a place the landgangs were not likely to invade. The adopted rumcarrier Con-err was supplied with food, weapons and clothing by Bati and Pier; the Witchburner Jay- may sent with Con-err provisions destined for Sandypoint, who was cutting trees in Sagi Bay for headman Star-ling. Forty or fifty people, most of them heirs of Rootkin who had once roamed freely on the Oceanshore, made their way to the brush-covered marsh by the Clear Lake.
Namakwe’s and Mini’s kin, all but Sigenak and Jozes, had at long last come to terms with the alliance on the Strait. Namakwe was all energy and hope. Namakwe’s son Nawak was as anxious as I to leave with the warriors.
Before we finally did leave, Mini warned the Wabash refugees that the alliance on the Strait was not all that Namakwe would have it be. The Strait’s villages were no longer Shutaha’s or his great-grandmother Chacapwe’s village. Kinship was much talked about, but only because it was vanishing. The Redcoats recognized no one as kin, and those who had formerly been Lemond were increasingly like the Redcoats. Tisha’s father Kampo knew that his son was on the Strait, but he pretended not to have a son. Kampo had been chosen by the Strait’s inhabitants to fight against their exclusion from the commons on Rattlesnake Isle. He had won only because the Redcoats’ headman had needed a loyal army, but during the fight he had become entangled with the landgrabbers to the point of agreeing to arrange a marriage between his niece Cecil and a land-measurer named Will-yams. This union had not made Will-yams Tisha’s cousin; it had merely strengthened a link in the land and fur nets which were the only circles of kinship recognized by the Invaders.
The delays abruptly ended. The problems of the refugees were forgotten, for word had come that one of Rah-jerks-lark’s bands was heading toward the Sandusky Bay village, undoubtedly because they knew that the Sandusky warriors were on the Strait. The band was led by a headman named Kraw-fur, one of the men who had taken part in the massacre of Lokaskwe and the Eastbranch converts on the Tuscarawas.
No council was needed, nor belts nor the recruitment of allies. Warriors emerged from their lodges fully painted and armed and ready to dance, the bandaged Aptegizhek foremost among them. Nizokwe and Isabel gazed at Lokaskwe’s angry son, their admiration mixed with pity.
I took part in the dance; what boiled inside me seemed to come from the bowels of the earth, as if earth herself were rising up against what was tearing her. I felt Yahatase, Sagikwe, Mangashko and Wagoshkwe in the strength of my limbs.
All of Oashi’s pact brothers danced: Nanikibi and Mini, Aleshi and Bati. Batfs son Nawak was setting out on his first scouting mission. Tisha took the place of absent Jozes. Oashi’s own son Aptegizhek wielded a weapon for the first time.
But Oashi was missing, as was Lokaskwe’s wariness toward the redfrocked ally and his weapons, and I was too eager for revenge to fill the void. Only Mini raised his voice, but even he didn’t question the need for the ally against whom these warriors had fought during the best part of their lives, nor the need for the weapons which maimed their users by making them dependent. Mini only complained; he was angered by the ally’s stinginess with provisions and weapons that were plentiful inside the enclosure because they were made by contrivances; he was angered by the ally’s open contempt toward warriors ready to give their lives for everyone on the Strait including the Redcoats. Mini knew that the redfrocked allies were all too similar to the Scalper enemies; the unending sweat and labor of both gangs of Invaders made them stingy and contemptuous toward free people for whom hunting was a sacred ritual and harvesting the occasion for a feast.
We went with the Redcoats’ weapons, but no actual Redcoats accompanied us. We found the band of Scalpers camped by the river that flows into Sandusky Bay. Headman Kraw-fur and his men, aware of our presence only after our attack began, ran like hares from wolves; it was probably the first time they had faced warriors and not women and children. We followed the fleeing Scalpers and captured most of them, including Kraw- fur. No one spoke for adopting a single one of them. Those known to have taken part in the Tuscarawas massacre with Kraw-fur were tortured.
A Southbranch messenger brought news that another band of Rah-jerks-lark’s men were camped on the Blue Licks across the Beautiful River, as if waiting to be ambushed. This band was led by a Scalper named Dam-doom, who was said to tell his men that killers of Rootkin were pioneers of independence and revolution. We learned that he didn’t refer to the killers of enemies in war, but to the murderers of women and children; as soon as we attacked, Dam-doom and his men fled like Kraw- fur’s; we downed most of them as they fled. We returned to Sandusky.
Tisha, whom Rah-jerks-lark would still take for an ally, went to the Scalpers’ councilground to learn what other armies the landgang agent intended to send against the Beautiful Valley’s inhabitants.
Mini and Aleshi went directly from the Blue Licks to the Strait to describe our two victories and to replenish the warriors’ provisions. They returned with the news that our redfrocked allies had capitulated to the Scalpers! All were indignant, but not all were surprised. This was not the first time Invaders had betrayed forest allies. Nanikibi, Mini, Bati and many others remembered that over twenty springs earlier they had defeated Ua-shn-tn and Bra-duck and several other Invading armies, and after all their victories, their Scabeating allies across the Ocean had capitulated to the enemy.
Aleshi said that, already before we had set out against the Scalpers on the Sandusky, talking leaves had arrived on the Strait, leaves which said the Redcoats’ overman across the Ocean had granted the Beautiful Valley to the Scalpers’ league. This explained the Strait headman’s wavering, his delays, his stinginess. Our peace with the Redcoats, the peace Namakwe and Mini and even Turtleleague warriors had beseeched us to make, had served only to give the Redcoats the illusion that they had the power to give our world away.
Aleshi’s message was greeted by all the derision it deserved. Aptegizhek said the Invaders could grant each other the moon on their talking leaves; this was a game the Invaders played with each other and wouldn’t deprive the rest of us of moonlight unless we let them exterminate us. Mini said even the redfrocked headman on the Strait recognized that his overman exceeded his powers when he granted the Beautiful Valley, and promised to give Rootkin all the aid needed to pursue the war.
The headman’s mind, Mini said, was on the furs gathered in the Beautiful Valley. Mini, keeper of the peacebelts of Shutaha’s village, had been treated as a nuisance by the headman, while redfrocked loyalists seeking refuge from the renegade landgang league were given all the headman’s attention and care. Mini lost all his qualified enthusiasm for the alliance with the Redcoats, having also learned that the headman, no longer needing to recruit villagers to his army, had allowed the Isle of Rattlesnakes, the villagers’ commons, to be seized by a Redcoat.
Tisha returned to Sandusky from the Scalpers’ council on the Beautiful River and told us Rah-jerks-lark kept his camp surrounded by people Tisha called rumsacks, broken and homeless Rootkin who clung to the Scalper for his rum. Rah- jerks-lark addressed these rumsacks as if they heard and spoke for all the Rootkin of the Valley, although they no longer heard or spoke for any. When Tisha reached the camp, Rah-jerks-lark, pursued by defeats—his sole victory had been the one over Ham-tin—told the rumsacks that his sole concern was to keep Invaders out of the Beautiful Valley. Then news of the Redcoats’ capitulation arrived from the Pit-strength. Once again boastful of a victory that wasn’t his, Rah-jerks-lark told the rumsacks that the Beautiful Valley’s Rootkin were defeated people, and that defeated people had no right to any land. Rah-jerks-lark apparently thought that Kre-sop and those who started this war by murdering Oashi had won the war. Rah-jerks-lark fumed and threatened, declaring war on the Valley’s inhabitants because he thought they had buried their weapons.
The rumsacks laughed at him; they knew that none of the valley’s armed Rootkin had been defeated, and they also knew that the Scalpers’ threats were as empty as their promises. The Scalpers’ threats and promises were not expressions intended to convey meanings to listeners, but ejaculations intended to impress other Scalpers with the prowess of their utterer. The headmen these people chose for their councils, invariably the greediest and most vicious victimizers of their fellows, were chosen for their ability to utter ejaculations that gave their listeners the illusion of prowess.
Neither the Scalpers’ threats nor the Redcoats’ capitulation worsened the situation of the Beautiful Valley, but they didn’t improve it either. Aptegizhek set out with Southbranch warriors against Invaders crossing the Beautiful River. He hoped the mere presence of warriors on the river would send the cowardly pioneers running, so that he could return with good news for Isador and his beautiful sister Isabel.
Isador and Tisha returned to the Strait with Mini, Aleshi and Bati, uneasy about their dependence on the treacherous Redcoats.
Nanikibi and I and most of the Firekeepers and Prairiekin did not accompany those of the Strait. We went to Kekionga on the edge of the embattled valley, my birthplace at the intersection of paths from Bison Prairie, the Strait, the Beautiful River and the Wabash.
For the first time since our capture of the Redcoats in Bison Prairie, I was with warriors who did not seek the Invaders’ help or their weapons. I understood, as I never had before, my greatgrandmother’s ceremony of three fires, ancient Wedasi’s ceremony, in which the Peninsula’s Firekeepers, their Turtlekin of the Strait and Rootkin and Prairiekin from the eastern and western parts of the Beautiful Valley come together to expel Wiske from their midst, Wiske the Invader, the contrived eagle of my dream.
But I also understood, during flashes which made my head spin, that the Kekionga to which I returned was no longer a village in which a beautiful soul like my mother Menoko could grow; it was not a place where even a child could live immersed in the antics of gulls, in the dance of bees, in the look of a deer or the petals of a flower. A day didn’t pass without news of a murder, an atrocity, a massacre, and all those who heard the news were impoverished and narrowedj All their acts and thoughts concentrated on not being victimized, not being murdered. Kekionga was no longer on ancient Wedasi’s peaceful Peninsula but in the war-embattled Valley, on its edge; it was no longer a village but a war camp; its three fires lit the faces of warriors from the four quarters; it was a gatheringplace of warriors who had no other home, who had no surviving kin, whose villages and fields had been destroyed. The cowardly Scalpers who declared war against armed enemies but warred only against unarmed men, women and children, knew what they were doing.
Nanikibi understood this too as he fumbled through his otterskin bundle and perused its contents, trying to grasp what his grandfather Chebansi had been like, and his greatgrandfather Wedasi, the peacemaker, and those who had come before Wedasi, who lived before the coming of the Invaders.
Aptegizhek was gone for barely two seasons. He arrived in Kekionga before the snows melted to tell us that several bands of armed landsuckers had crossed to the Beautiful River’s northern shore and were moving to converge at the mound village of Southbranch kin at the mouth of the Muskingum. Besides their rifles they carried talking leaves which, they said, gave the mound village and all the fields around it to a band that called itself the Beautiful Landgang, newest heir to the gangs of Ua- shn-tn, Kre-sop and Done-more. This landgang had forced a group of broken Turtlewarriors to admit, at gunpoint, that the Turtleleague did not claim any part of the Beautiful Valley, and had then gotten a group of rumsacks who had once been Southbranch kin to put their marks on a talking leaf. This was a game the Scalpers played to entertain each other, but the converging landsuckers were too numerous for the warriors on the Muskingum, and the titles fired their holders with righteous bloodlust.
The Strait’s warriors returned with Aptegizhek to council and dance in Kekionga, unencumbered by their redfrocked allies. All of them came: Isador as well as his father Mini and uncle Aleshi; Nawak as well as his father Bati. But Aptegizhek was crestfallen and seemed self-conscious about his maimed head. Isabel had welcomed him as a close cousin; Isador had told him she had been accepting gifts from a meek rumcarrier named Lion.
Too few to remove the Invaders from the Southland below the Beautiful River, the counciling warriors, I among them, resolved to stop any Invaders from establishing a foothold on any part of the northern shore. Tisha was to carry our resolve to the Cheaters’ headman at the Pit-strength. Aleshi helped Tisha formulate the message: the Scalpers’ game of having rumsacks place marks on talking leaves was nothing but an insult to Rootkin; the armed men at the Pit-strength were going to be tolerated only if they hurried to remove their own landsuckers before our hatchets removed them; if the Pit-strength headman wanted to address western warriors, he should send messages to their councils, not to rumsacks who heard and spoke for no one.
Many, including Nanikibi and I, were dissatisfied with Aleshi’s formulations, but Mini said it was necessary to speak to the Invaders in a language they could understand, and Aptegizhek and his companions from the Muskingum urged haste.
I wasn’t as strong as I had been on my first raids in the Sunrise Mountains, and the horse ride alone exhausted me. I thought of Lokaskwe, of her final resolve to live surrounded by earth’s unstinting beauty, away from the battlegrounds, and I felt myself a cornered serpent lashing out in self-defense, the defended beauty receding ever further from my reach.
I was repelled by the enemy when we sighted him exactly where we expected him; he seemed unaware that the Valley was full of vibrant life, all of it hostile to his presence. Two bands of Scalpers were camped outside the mound village, one on each side, each waiting for the other to attack first because both knew there were not only women and children in the village but warriors as well. We retreated to the forest to dance before we split up to ambush both bands simultaneously. During the dance I thought of the bountyseekers who had surrounded Lenapi’s mountain village, of Kre-sop and the land measurers who had murdered Oashi on the Kanawha, of Kraw-fur and the monsters who massacred Lokaskwe and the unarmed converts.
Both Scalper bands panicked as soon as they saw us; as many of them were killed by each others’ rifles as by our arrows. We let survivors flee across the Beautiful River, hoping they and their likes would keep on swimming until they reached the other side of the Ocean. A few enraged warriors scalped corpses. Aptegizhek and Nanikibi tried to stop this repulsive act; we were denatured enough by the Invaders’ ways. Aptegizhek and then others, (i among them, stuffed earth into the mouths of corpses, letting them satisfy their landlust now, when they weren’t merely taking but also giving, at last acknowledging Earth’s generosity by offering her their bodies.
Isador stayed at the mound village with his friend Aptegizhek when the rest of us returned to Kekionga.
We found Tisha waiting for us, together with my Topinbi and Nagmo’s son Nangisi and a horse-drawn gift caravan. News of our defeat of the Scalpers at the mound village had reached the Pit-strength shortly before Tisha had, and the Pit-strength headman had treated Tisha with excessive obsequiousness, speaking endlessly of the Scalpers’ disposition to be generous to the people of the Valley. Rah-jerks-lark was no longer headman; the landgangs had learned more about his long and noisily boasted victory over Ham-tin, and they were incensed by his practice of cheating not only his underlings but also his fellow headmen. His successor was a headman Harr-marr, a less boastful man who was directly answerable for his words and deeds to overman Ua-shn-tn. This Harr-marr admitted to Tisha that the Beautiful Valley’s Rootkin were not defeated people who had lost the valley, since they hadn’t been defeated, and said that overman Ua-shn-tn was pulling all his landsuckers, with or without titles, away from the valley’s northern shore, and was disbanding all his armed bands except Harr-marr’s. After hearing Tisha’s message, Harr-marr said he and his armed men would stay at the Pit-strength only long enough to remove all landsuckers from the north of the valley. Harr-marr then confronted Tisha with a talking leaf and urged Tisha to accept gifts and put a mark on the leaf, thereby acknowledging Harr-marr’s presence and role in the Valley. Tisha refused to mark anything, and was dismayed to learn that the armed man had already gathered marks, not only from rumsacks who pretended to speak for Southbranch kin, but from Nagmo’s Nangisi pretending to speak for Bison Prairie’s Firekeepers, and from my Topinbi pretending to speak for Kekionga’s Prairiekin, as Nanikibi’s son, and for the Strait’s Turtlefolk, as Namakwe’s nephew. They and all others who marked the Scalpers’ leaves were named chiefs of tribes by Harr-marr.
Let the Invaders play their games, some said, but many others, myself included, didn’t like their games.
Nangisi and Topinbi were full of self-justification; Topinbi was the more eloquent of the two; he reminded me of his grandfather Ozagi. He said the war was damaging the Bison Prairie fur trade, and the gifts he and Nangisi had received were anxiously awaited, not only by those eager to drink rum, but above all by the children—his own, Cakima’s, Nangisi’s and Winamek’s. He told us Sandypoint had returned to the Lakebottom, only to find the source of his gifts so blocked up that he had begged for gifts from the Strait’s Jay-may, to whom he had given paintings instead of furs; the other, Cakima’s Burr-net, had been captured and taken to Mishilimakina by Hochelaga Redcoats who wanted Burr-net to take his furs to their posts and not to Soli-man and Anto.
Topinbi insisted that his mark on a leaf gave the Invaders nothing and bound no one, since no council of Rootkin had empowered him to speak for them. By refusing to mark the leaf he wouldn’t keep Invaders out of the Valley, he would merely let the Invaders’ gifts be dissipated by rumsacks who drank all they were given.
I was disturbed by my son’s inability to live without the Invaders’ gifts, but I was more upset by the message Tisha had taken to the headman at the Pit-strength, a message formulated by Aleshi which even Mini had justified in terms of the need to speak to the Invaders in their language. My ancestors had not spoken to Mini’s grandfather in his language; Pyerwa had learned the language of Rootkin. The Invaders’ language was incomprehensible to us not because its sounds differed from ours, but because its meanings did. Their language put last things first. Tisha had gone to the Pit-strength to tell the Invaders to stay east of the mountains and south of the river, he had gone to speak about borders. But borders were not first things, they were last things. Earth hadn’t put such constraints in the way of the creatures enjoying her fruits. Borders came with the Invaders. Tisha had told the headman to remove Invaders who crossed the borders, as if it could be up to him or any man to give or withhold permission, as if he or any man could have the power to determine who was to live in the Beautiful Valley, as if we had suddenly forgotten that it was this very power we were warring against.
Tisha’s, or rather Aleshi’s message did not go unheard by the Scalpers’ headman. Isador was soon back from the Muskingum mound village confirming my worst fears. Headman Harr-marr had sped from the Pit-strength to the mound village with Aleshi’s words, surmising that formulations acceptable to coun- ciling warriors of Kekionga would not be rejected by a council of peaceful villagers on the Muskingum. Using Tisha’s words, Harr-marr spoke of the in violability of the mountains and the river as borders separating Invaders from Rootkin, and of his commitment to remove Invaders who crossed those borders. He even promised to leave near the mound village a detachment of armed men to carry out this task, and agreed that the Valley’s warriors would retain the power to remove all Invaders he failed to reach. Regaling his hosts with gifts, Harr-marr then asked them to mark his talking leaf, a mark which committed them to nothing but acceptance of Harr-marr in his promised role, and only so long as he continued to carry it out.
Southbranch kin tired of continual war marked the leaf; Aptegizhek, son and heir of peacemakers Oashi, Lenapi and Shawano, marked the leaf; Eastbranch survivors who feared extinction marked the leaf; Isador, son of the Strait’s beltholder, enchanted to be part of an agreement with mutual benefits and obligations, like Shutaha’s with Lekomanda Kadyak, signed the leaf.
Isador was still enchanted when he reached Kekionga on his way to the Strait with the message that peace had at last come to the Beautiful Valley.
The illusion lasted for a season, during which two sons of Magidins and Con-err the rumcarrier, grown youths, came to Kekionga from the marsh by the Clear Lake. Their village had dispersed. The Strait’s rum and fur gangs had been using Con- err to reduce the Brethren’s converts to the gangs’ appendages, and the converts had moved their village to the Morningland. The youths, fond neither of the converts nor of the gangs, had left their father and Magidins at the marsh with their younger children.
Aptegizhek, together with fear-driven Eastbranch kin, was back in Kekionga soon enough; he came shortly after Sigenak arrived with terror-stricken refugees from the Wabash.
Aptegizhek and the people from the mound village weren’t injured; no armed gangs had attacked them. Yet they looked and spoke as if, like the ancient Riverpeople, they had seen mountain-sized white serpents moving across the Beautiful Valley swallowing all life, as if they had seen the flying contrivances of my childhood’s dream.
After Aptegizhek and the others marked Harr-marr’s leaf, the headman left the promised detachment near the mound village and moved on; Sigenak would tell us where Harr-marr went next.
The detachment, headed by a fat man called Sun-clear, removed all landsuckers who crossed the river to squat on the northern shore; it seemed intent on carrying out its obligation. It was even reinforced by more armed men so that no squatters would be missed.
Lulled by Sun-clear’s conscientiousness, the mound village kin were slow to notice that headman Sun-clear’s own camp, the army that kept Invaders out of the Valley, was itself swallowing all the life surrounding it. Forests were falling; dead animals lay where they had been shot, rotting; tame animals bellowed in picketed enclosures of bare earth. Rootkin looked on with fascination, incredulous of what they saw, as if entranced.
Headman Sun-clear was misnamed; he was murky; none could fathom his real intentions. Only after questioning Sun- clear’s armed men and reflecting on what they heard did it begin to dawn on Aptegizhek and others that the detachment Harr- marr had left behind was a landgang and that Sun-clear was its headman. It was a landgang consisting of armed men who had served overman Ua-shn-tn since the days of his scalping of Jumon and Lekomanda Shak and his retreat with Bra-duck’s baggage. It fulfilled its obligation to Rootkin by removing from the Valley all Invaders who had not been Ua-shn-tn’s associates, all who squatted without its permission.
The detachment quickly became a village that encroached on the Riverpeople’s mounds. The forest surrounding it became a vast clearing. Devastation such as Eastbranch kin had seen on their Oceanshore during a generation was seen during less than a season at the mouth of the Muskingum. The Southbranch village by the mounds was soon surrounded by armed men who were indistinguishable from the lonely pioneers, the landsuckers sweating and laboring over their enclosed tame animals and tame plants destined to fatten landgang headmen and their agents, landsuckers answerable for their every act to headman Sun-clear; those who exhibited any independence were enclosed in a wooden trap.
Eastbranch kin then learned that the metamorphosis of the detachment didn’t just happen, but had been intended; headman Sun-clear possessed a talking leaf, called an ordinance, in which his father Ua-shn-tn empowered him to remove unauthorized squatters, to destroy the trees and animals which were the shelter, the food, the companions of Rootkin, and at last to kidnap the children of starved-out Rootkin and turn them into land-scratching pioneers.
Aptegizhek and the Eastbranch kin, whose thoughts were never far from the massacre on the Tuscarawas, envisioned themselves as unarmed converts herded like cows into square lodges, prayers on their lips and talking leaves in hand, beset by grinning Pox-tn Boys, Kre-sops and Kraw-furs, their bodies cut to pieces, their scalps removed by bountyseekers, the lodges with their scraps at last burned.
Terrified by this vision, many Eastbranch kin fled westward, intending not to stop until they reached the Stonelodge people of the Sunset Mountains. Others accompanied Aptegizhek to their kinsman Lenapi’s one-time home, to kin who had made no agreements with Scalper Ua-shn-tn or his headmen.
Tisha’s uncle Jozes was in Kekionga, as was Sigenak with five of his seven sons, but without Manato. Sigenak was together with his kin of the Lakes for the first time since the war against the enclosures. He had been slow in seeing through the masks of the Scalpers.
Sigenak had carried Wagoshkwe’s arrowhead pendant into the Scalpers’ net. When Tisha left the Wabash to seek refuge on the Strait, Sigenak remained in Kithepekanu and proudly proclaimed himself neutral; he refused to break his alliance with the Senyores, but he wanted nothing to do with the Senyores’ ally Rah-jerks-lark.
Sigenak helped Jozes establish a fur post in nearby Uiatanon, and when Sandypoint returned to the Lakebottom, Sigenak accompanied Nagmo’s youngest son Winamek on the caravan route from Sandypoint’s post on the Lakebottom to Cahokia.
When they learned that overman Ua-shn-tn had granted the lower Wabash Valley to Rah-jerks-lark, Sigenak and his son Meteya made a game out of granting each other the Oceanshore and the Sunset Mountains, amusing their kin, all of whom would have laughed if one had told them of the Scalpers’ singleness of purpose; they had seen Rah-jerks-lark plundering his own men, Senyores plundering Rah-jerks-lark, finally Rah- jerks-lark heading east to plunder other headmen.
Jozes, who only moved between Uiatanon and Kithe- pekanu, nevertheless knew better than Sigenak that the Scalpers’ games had lasting consequences. Rah-jerks-lark’s successor arrived in Uiatanon with the message that only people loyal to Ua-shn-tn would be allowed to live in the village. When the villagers laughed, the Scalpers plundered various lodges, including Jozes’s post. Lemond’s kin united with Prairiekin and chased the Scalpers out of Uiatanon, and were then subjected to daily ambushes and atrocities. Jozes and others begged Sigenak and the Prairiewarriors to intervene, but Sigenak persisted in thinking himself neutral.
Among Sigenak’s sons, only Wapmimi attached himself to warriors who raided the Scalpers. Adopted Will-well wanted only to keep peace between Sigenak and the Scalpers. Meteya was neutral by inclination. Pensive Wakaya stood apart, and Kulswa and Pilawa were not yet old enough to scout.
It was learned that a new headman with an army was camped at the falls of the Beautiful River—this was Harr-marr, who had just left his detachment at the Muskingum mound village. Sigenak, his older sons, and a sizable number of warriors left Kithepekanu to council with the new headman and to make him answer for the Scalpers’ atrocities.
Headman Harr-marr, with Will-well translating, promised to remove from the Wabash, not only the troublemakers, but all other unauthorized Invaders.
When Sigenak told of this, I couldn’t believe that Will-well didn’t grasp Harr-marr’s intention to remove some while authorizing others.
The warriors happily put marks on Harr-marr’s leaf and returned toward Kithepekanu.
As they approached their village, they saw burnt fields, burnt cornstacks, burnt lodges. Manato and her two youngest sons were among the ashes.
The warriors of that village had been neutral or even friends of those who burned it. None of the warriors were dead.
The dead were all old people and women and children.
Jozes, who had now lost his post in Kithepekanu as well, was returning from Uiatanon when the massacre occurred. Armed men encircled the village, a few entered. There were twenty horses in the village and the armed men wanted them. Tinami and other village women resisted. The armed men broke out in a frenzy of shooting, stabbing and scalping, letting none escape, at last burning the remains. Tinami was among the burnt remains.
Jozes had never seen anything like it; neither had Sigenak. The warriors, Jozes, Sigenak and his remaining sons, all headed directly to Kekionga, where they knew they would find warriors who were allied with no Invaders.
Jozes shook with fear. Sigenak and Wakaya narrated. When they were done, Aptegizhek embraced Wakaya as he had been embraced by Isador after Lokaskwe’s death. Sigenak’s rage compensated for all his years of neutrality; his rage made every warrior’s heart blaze.
We sent a belt to the Strait’s warriors. Virtually everyone came to the Kekionga council.
On the councilground, I helped Nanikibi light three fires. There was no rum, there were no gifts, there were none of the accretions that had dimmed our fires since my ancestor Naan- gisi’s days. I felt that something almost lost became reconstituted during that angry council and ceremony. We were all together: Yahatase’s, Binesikwe’s and Chacapwe’s heirs with kin from the Oceanshore, the mountains, the valleys and the prairies. Wagoshkwe’s Namakwe was with her two brothers at last. Oashi’s pact brothers were with each other again and Oashi’s son was with their sons. Even a Redcoat from Hochelaga took part in the council; Namakwe’s daughter Mikenokwe had made him my and Nanikibi’s nephew. Called Shandone, this talkative man was better informed about the Scalpers’ forces than any of the Strait’s warriors.
Sigenak and his hotheaded son Gizes, as well as Namakwe’s and Batfs youthful Nawak, wanted to set out immediately and pounce on the nearest Invaders.
Mini and Aleshi, as well as Nanikibi, wanted to wait until one of the Scalpers’ armies moved. Sigenak’s Meteya and Wakaya, as well as Aptegizhek, urged Sigenak to wait and prepare for an encounter more significant than a raid.
Both Meteya and Wakaya listened in rapt attention to my and Nanikibi’s songs and stories; Sigenak had told them of nothing other than the war of the Redearth kin. Wakaya was wide-eyed as he gazed on the bark scroll Aptegizhek unrolled for him. The youth made Aptegizhek or Nanikibi or me repeat every detail about the world’s extent, the names of the ancient people, the names of the vanished and the nearly vanished. Slowly the thoughts sank in: Wagoshkwe’s thoughts, Sagi- kwe’s, Yahatase’s; the youth’s eyes burned with a desire to push the murderous Invaders away.
Wakaya generously offered his thoughts to his older brother Will-well, but the adopted youth was no Lokaskwe. Will-well shook with fear, like Jozes, like Shecogosikwe had shaken when she had pulled Aptegizhek to Bison Prairie, like Magidins must have shaken when she had left her Eastbranch kin to seek refuge in rumcarrier Con-err’s post.
I didn’t trust the nervous Will-well, who clung to Sigenak and said nothing to anyone; but I didn’t trust many closer kin, among them Nagmo’s sons, Magidins’ sons, my own Topinbi and Cakima.
We knew the Scalpers would not come to seek us in Kekionga. We would have to seek them. They attacked women and children, and turned on warriors only when the warriors were unarmed and begging to council, like Shawano. They excluded chance and fairness at the very outset; they faced warriors only if they were certain of overwhelming superiority. The murderers of Lokaskwe had no need for wit, skill or daring; they were people who hunted wolves, deer and beaver with rifles, in a hunt where there’s no danger of retaliation, even the rabbit’s against the wolf. They didn’t hunt, they penned their chickens in and then simply wrung the necks of tame animals who couldn’t flee.
We thought there were two large armies in the Beautiful Valley. The Redcoat Shandone insisted there was only one, Harr-marr’s. The concentration around the fat Sun-clear at the Muskingum was anything but clear. No one knew if it was a budding army, or the brain of the entire invasion, or simply a gathering of landgangs fattening themselves with gifts from those to whom they granted portions of the Beautiful Valley.
We did know that Harr-marr’s was an army, far from its Pit-strength stronghold, camped by the Beautiful River’s falls at the western end of the Valley, implementing Harr-marr’s only concrete promise: to remove unauthorized squatters from unmeasured lands.
Aleshi jokingly explained that Harr-marr’s promise was not a lie but a half-truth, since it was not Harr-marr’s army but a different gang, Kre-sop’s heirs, who did the measuring, and still another gang, Ua-shn-tn’s and Done-more’s agents, who did the authorizing.
We knew that Scalper Ua-shn-tn, overman of the league of Slavers, Cheaters and Witchburners, was still committed to invading the Beautiful Valley; he had been trying to do it for nearly forty years, and his league had been formed for that purpose. But Shandone told us overman Ua-shn-tn wanted to conquer the Valley without a battle, to defeat the enemy without ever facing him. He sent reinforcements to Harr-marr, but his intercepted messages all urged Harr-marr to punish the enemy, to flog the enemy, yet to avoid battles. The Scalper saw us as recalcitrant horses or children; he saw himself as the horse-breaker or bullying father. He would treat us as he treated his children. Democracy was his name for the world of children, infantilized men and imprisoned women crowded like tame animals into his landgangs’ enclosures.
Harr-marr was unable to flog horses who weren’t enclosed, so for the time being he contented himself with illusory flogging. He surrounded himself with rumsacks and with gift- seekers like my son Topinbi, and got them to place marks on leaves that spoke of Ua-shn-tn as their Great Father.
But Harr-marr wasn’t witless. It soon dawned on him that gift-seekers like Topinbi and his cousins Nangisi and Winamek laughed at him when he turned his back; they were willing to mark anything to compensate for their poor fur hunts. Harr- marr grew restive, and our bored scouts had to watch for his next move. The Kekionga council was ready when scouts reported three movements of the Scalpers’ armies.
Sun-clear gave the name Marr-yet to his stronghold by the mound village on the Muskingum and then moved westward to the Serpent Mound, the place where the legendary Wiske and his Rootkin first met the Valley’s Riverpeople. Sun-clear’s intentions were still unclear.
Harr-marr’s force left the falls and split into two groups, one heading toward Kekionga, the other toward the Wabash destroying every field and undefended village on its path.
Sigenak burned to meet the force moving toward the Wabash, to avenge the massacre of Manato, Kulswa and Pilawa, to realize Wagoshkwe’s dream of removing the Invaders. His sons Meteya, Wapmimi and Will-well accompanied his force of Prairiekin, as did Nanikibi and I. His son Wakaya stayed with Aptegizhek and the Strait’s warriors to defend Kekionga.
As we approached the Wabash, we learned that the Scalpers had destroyed re-risen Kithepekanu for the second time, and scalped the people of several other villages whose warriors were in Kekionga. But we never met the army. As soon as they learned that warriors were heading toward the Wabash, the Scalpers’ force dispersed, all six hundred of them, in as many directions, without knowing how many warriors were heading toward them. We were enraged that so many of us had gone to meet them; Sigenak and Meteya and a few scouts could have dispersed them.
If most of us had stayed in Kekionga, we might have prevented the death of Mini. The army we went to meet was a diversion, and it accomplished its purpose by tying us up.
The army that moved toward Kekionga was Harr-marr’s main force, an army three times as numerous as the warriors in Kekionga. This army, like the other, attacked villages on its path, but the villages were empty as their Rootkin had been warned. Even so, Harr-marr attacked thousands of bushels of corn, enough to feed the Valley, and he attacked squash and beans, as if earth’s gifts were his enemy. Many of the Southbranch villages near the Beautiful River were destroyed for the fourth time since Kre-sop’s and Done-more’s war.
Kekionga was empty when Harr-marr reached it; even food had been taken to the forest, as much of it as horses could pull. Three hundred of Harr-marr’s men entered Kekionga to burn it, but a hundred warriors with Wakaya, Aptegizhek and Mini were waiting in the forest, ambushed the Invaders and drove the remnants back to Harr-marr’s force. Thinking he had discovered the position of the main body of warriors, Harr-marr moved his entire army toward the spot from which Wakaya had sprung—and was trapped on three sides by the warriors with Isador, Bati and Tisha. Nearly a fourth of Harr-marr’s numerous army fell. Most of the packhorses were captured. Harr-marr and his surviving men fled in a rout, but not before having gunned down nearly a hundred of the bravest and most beautiful human beings of the western Lakes, among them Mini, keeper of the belts of Shutaha’s village, Chacapwe’s and Ahsepona’s great-grandson, my cousin.
Minfs son Isador, his nephew Tisha, his Nizokwe’s brother Bati were unable to hide their tears. Nizokwe arrived as soon as the news reached the Strait—silent, like my mother Menoko before her end, all her music gone.
Many in Kekionga rejoiced after the victory, among them Meteya and Wapmimi, who didn’t know the landgangs well, and Aptegizhek, who longed for peace and thought the invasion had been stopped, its cudgel broken.
Runners went in all directions, not only to villages of victorious and of fallen warriors, but also to the Scalpers’ strongholds at the Serpent Mound and the Pit-strength. The messages were brief and clear: the Invaders’ army had been decisively defeated; they were now asked to pull all their squatters, measurers, landgang agents and enclosures out of the Beautiful Valley. Those who helped formulate the messages—Sigenak and Wakaya with help from Isador, Aptegizhek and Aleshi— still believed, as Mini had believed, that the Invaders understood their own language and abided by their own rules. The Scalpers had told undefeated Rootkin that conquerors inherited the land, that the defeated had no right to land. Ua-shn-tn himself had been defeated, not once but every time he had sent an army against western warriors. By his own terms and rules he was obliged to retreat, not only from the Beautiful Valley, but from the Oceanshore as well.
But the Scalpers grasped their own terms no better than ours; they observed no rules, respected no limits, not even their own; fairness was as strange to them as kinship and giving.
Their answer came at the end of a short winter, during the time of games and dances celebrating earth’s renewal, when it was least expected; previous attacks had come after the furs were dressed and the com and vegetables harvested, so the Invaders could plunder all they could carry before destroying the rest.
The Scalpers learned only one thing from our messages and from their headman’s defeat: to avoid Kekionga, to confront only those they could overwhelm, to war only against those they could butcher like their enclosed cattle. The answer crossed the Beautiful River in the form of a thousand bountyseekers from the Southland.
The men on Ua-shn-tn’s council did not boast of their overman’s youthful scalping expeditions. They now scalped only by deputy. Their deputies from the Southland were led by a headman named The Terror by his own men. Their model was the swath of desolation cut through the Turtleleague’s woodlands by Sullied-van. They moved from their landingplace, across the prairies, all the way to the Wabash, murdering and scalping all villagers they could reach, killing all animals, looting and burning all villages. Almost all their victims were villagers who had never warred against Scalpers, some of whom had been the Scalpers’ allies. They destroyed Sigenak’s Kithepekanu for the third time, and on their return, when survivors were raising new lodges and Jozes was among them gathering the remains of his post, The Terror destroyed Kithepekanu for the fourth time; Jozes was among the scalped victims.
I had never been close to Lekomanda Shak’s son, no one had; but the news of his death was painful. Manyan’s son was Mini’s cousin and Tisha’s uncle; he had been Oashi’s and Mini’s childhood friend and pact brother, and had in the end rejoined them.
Jozes’s three sons, Nanikibi’s and my nephews, were among the warriors. Marikwe, Jozes’s daughter, had no desire to remain in Kithepekanu. I accompanied her and her brother Tisha’s children Liket and Jose to the Strait.
Fear of the Scalpers’ atrocities also led my Cakima with her three young sons to seek safety on the Strait. Nogewi, mother of my son’s children Mimikwe and Nesoki, had been among the victims massacred at Kithepekanu.
If The Terror’s atrocities were intended to intimidate Kekionga’s warriors and not merely satisfy the bloodlust of frustrated men too denatured to confront the power that stunted them, they failed to achieve their aim. The ground of Kekionga trembled from unending war dances, the air was thick with war cries. Red belts were sent to the furthest corners runners could reach, from the Turtleleague’s woodlands to the Plains of mounted Redearth kin and their western cousins. War parties set out daily with Sigenak’s sons, with Isador or Bati. Aptegizhek, Isador and others still tried to stop the scalping of victims, but many, including Sigenak and his son Will-well, couldn’t be restrained from reciprocating the Scalpers’ repulsive deed.
It wasn’t long before news came that the fat headman camped by the Serpent Mount, Sun-clear, had started to move. His intentions were finally clear, even to Mikenokwe’s Redcoat Shandone. Sun-clear placed himself at the head of Harr-marr’s remaining army, and overman Ua-shn-tn sent him three thousand more seasoned killers, a thousand on horses, to give him absolute superiority over any war party he might meet. His destination was also clear; he moved at a snail’s pace toward Kekionga, felling trees to build enclosures at every crossing, afraid of every bush and grove.
I joined Nanikibi and Sigenak and the warriors who set out to meet Sun-clear’s force before it reached Kekionga.
Sigenak was nearing sixty winters, but he remained fast and agile; he had a sense for the timing and an eye for the ambush. Wakaya and Will-well were learning quickly.
As soon as Sigenak uttered the war cry, before the hidden warriors had leaped from the forest, Sun-clear’s entire huge army collapsed like some beast with feet too thin for the weight of its body. Fat Sun-clear’s response to the war cry was to turn his horse and try to flee through his own lines, away from the enemy he’d come to meet. Sun-clear fell off his horse and had himself carried away by runners. He retained his life only because the warriors who saw him burst out laughing.
Sun-clear’s army, arrayed in neat rows like the contrivance of a square brain, its men broken, like their horses, to act only on the headman’s instructions, panicked when it lost its head. The neat rows were like consecutive walls, each blocking the previous row’s retreat; the hysterical men shot their way through the walls, killing far more of their fellows than our arrows reached, leaving a thousand corpses in the field.
Western warriors had never seen such carnage. Aleshi was killed because he planted himself in the way of a retreating madman.
Aleshi and Mini had both been among the warriors who had humiliated Scalper Ua-shn-tn forty summers earlier, near the fork that makes the Beautiful River. Aleshi had only been a boy then; he had gone as a scout.
There was no victory celebration in Kekionga. Sun-clear’s losses were as great as Bra-duck’s had been; Oceanshore Invaders had never suffered a greater defeat. We lost few, but couldn’t bear a single loss; many warriors had no surviving kin, neither elders nor women nor children; they had neither fields nor lodges to return to. A word the landgangs were said to be using stuck in our throats; the word was Empty; it was being used to describe various parts of the Beautiful Valley.
After our defeat of Sun-clear, the Strait’s Redcoats were much friendlier to us than they had been to Mini when he had begged for their help. Mikenokwe’s redfrocked Shandone and Jozes’s son Gabinya brought the Strait’s headman to Kekionga, ostensibly to join us in celebrating our victory and in mourning Aleshi’s death. Aleshi, banished by the Redcoats after the war against the enclosures, had been their loyal ally since the split of the Oceanshore Invaders into two hostile gangs.
The headman’s real reason for coming was to place himself at the head of the victorious party. He wanted to renew the alliance. He thought we had fought for the wellbeing of the Redcoats’ fur gangs. He was pleased to have won a victory with such ease, with neither men nor provisions nor bloody clashes. He wanted us to continue to keep the Valley open to his fur gangs. His advice to us was to agree to grant the Scalpers the empty portions of the Valley, with clearly defined boundaries, like the Muskingum and the Beautiful River, in order to keep the rest of the Valley. He would even help us by building an enclosure near Kekionga.
The counciling warriors were all repelled by the Redcoat’s advice, Aptegizhek, Sigenak and Will-well foremost among them. Aptegizhek said such advice would have us accept the murder of our kin, the destruction of our ceremonies, villages and fields; such advice would have us accept that massacres and atrocities gave the Invaders their coveted title.
Sigenak angrily said he would recognize no Invaders in any part of the Valley, he would accept no boundaries, and he would make no agreements. He spoke for most of the warriors in Kekionga.
The Redcoat then told us there were rumors that the Scalpers were preparing a yet larger army at the Pit-strength, this one led by a headman Vain, called Mad-ant for his demented killing sprees during the Scalpers’ war against the Redcoats.
Fearful Will-well greeted this news with seeming courage; he boasted he would carry Sigenak’s angry message to the new Pit-strength headman.
Sigenak saw through his adopted son’s display of courageous defiance. He sadly told the youth he had not esteemed his other sons above his adopted son; he had accepted what Will- well gave and he had given what he could; he had no reproaches; Will-well had a father in Kekionga, as well as four brothers, a young bride, a son, and numerous cousins; Will-well was a Rootperson, he was free to choose his own path, to go where he pleased.
Will-well had slept with bad dreams since he had returned to burnt Kithepekanu and seen the ashes of his young brothers and their mother; his fear of such an end was greater than his kinship.
Sigenak knew he was losing another son, and he knew that the Scalpers’ army would not turn away a warrior who still remembered their language, who had scouted, surprised and ambushed alongside Sigenak’s son Wakaya; they were in sore need of such scouts. Sigenak remembered that Will-well had often spoken of Redcoats as conspirators who had instigated the war between Rootkin and landgangs, and of Scalpers as freedom-loving natural allies of Rootkin against the repressive Redcoats.
Sigenak wasn’t prepared for the defector’s first deed, which was perverse. The adopted son seemed intent on rubbing his father’s face in dirt. Will'Well guided a landgang agent, a Black- collar and several captive Prairiekin to a council in Cahokia at the Valley’s westernmost extremity. Will-well was welcomed by the Redearth and Prairiekin in Cahokia as a kinsman, as Sigenak’s son. The Blackcollar, a successor to Brother Post-err named Brother Hack-a-well, presented the captives as a gift from people who, he said, sought only peace. This Blackcollar who pretended that the murderers of his converts on the Tuscarawas were all Brethren was obviously not as sincere a man as Brother Post-err. The landgang agent then got Redearth and Prairiekin to agree not to oust his peaceloving people from their homes on the Muskingum (precisely the boundary suggested by the Redcoats so hated by Will-well). The Cahokians marked the agent’s leaf; those among them who had heard of the Muskingum weren’t sure if it was on the Oceanshore or across the Ocean. The landgangs couldn’t have gone further from the Muskingum in search of their marks.
All the tricks in the bag were familiar, but Sigenak was angered by the very existence of a leaf which spoke of Wa- goshkwe’s kin granting the eastern portion of the Valley to the Scalpers.
The war council that prepared to confront the Scalpers’ newest army was smaller than the previous two. Most warriors whose villages had not been destroyed left Kekionga, not because they feared Mad-ant Vain’s army, but because they feared the Emptiness that would be the lot of villages without warriors in them. There remained in Kekionga only those who had nowhere else to go, who were numerous enough, together with their cousins from the nearby Strait.
Sigenak’s sons, Wakaya and Wapmimi in the circle of Southbranch kin, Meteya with Nanikibi in the circle of Firekeepers, Sigenak himself in the circle of Prairiekin, danced with the resolve to confront whatever came against them. Those of the Strait, Namakwe’s son Nawak with Isador and the Turtlefolk, Tisha with Bati and the Rootkin, danced with less resolve, and Mikenokwe’s redfrocked Shandone as well as Tinami’s son Gabinya were already seeking refuge in the enclosure the Strait’s Redcoats raised near Kekionga.
I didn’t join any of the four circles. I didn’t paint myself, even though many dreams and signs told me this would be the last council in Kekionga and I would never again dance with the warriors. I felt myself turning into a wrinkled old woman, too slow and weak to accompany youthful warriors., I regretted not having followed the path Lokaskwe had sought, not having lived, loved, sung, planted and died with a joyful song on my lips among waving cornstalks and spreading vines. I regretted having followed the twisted path, Wabskeni’s path, a killer’s path.
Heavy with such thoughts, I wasn’t hostile to Topinbi when he came to Kekionga with his gifts. He was following some kind of straight path, a carrier’s path, ancient Nangisi’s, not Wabskeni’s. He spoke radiantly of my and Nanikibi’s grandchildren, as if they all were well. My Cakima already had four, and all of them preserved the old names, if not the old ways. Instead of facing the blood and gore, I could have been a grandmother to these children; Nanikibi and I could have sung to them of Yahatase, Miogwewe, Shutaha, even Wagoshkwe; we could die with the thought that these children would realize our dreams better than we had.
Nanikibi’s thoughts were far from mine. He danced; he seemed as youthful and agile as Sigenak had appeared before the confrontation with Sun-clear. Nanikibi knew the eyes of the youths were on him, particularly Wakaya’s, Meteya’s, Aptegizhek’s, Tisha’s. He had sung to them of the objects in his bundle, of the world described on Aptegizhek’s scroll, of the regions sinking beyond the reach of memory, and he was as resolved as they to keep yet another village, field or even single tree from sinking.
Scouts told us Mad-ant Vain’s army was leaving the Pit- strength with eagles on its standards, crossing the valley of mounds so loved by Southbranch kin, so briefly a refuge to the remaining Eastbranch kin. The army was moving toward Sun- clear’s former stronghold by the Serpent Mound, with each step wiping out beauty its denatured landsuckers couldn’t grasp, with each step destroying the living and their food, plundering earth’s cover, razing even the great mounds, the traces, the memory—with each step making an infinite world uninhabitable, turning it into the Emptiness they lusted to possess.
The final atrocity was the renaming: the fork that makes the Beautiful River became the Pit-strength, the Muskingum mound village became Marr-yet, the Serpent Mound was becoming Ua-shn-tn’s Strength, the Southland was becoming Slaveland and a huge army was preparing to turn the most beautiful part of the world into Scalpers’ Valley.
Overman Ua-shn-tn’s newest deputy in the valley was apparently resolved to put an end to the old Scalper’s forty summers of defeats, retreats and humiliations, to erase the very memory of those defeats by annihilating every last one of the warriors who inflicted them, and to spread the overman’s member over the length and breadth of a once-beautiful valley at last uncovered and ravaged.
Will-well, Sigenak’s former son, wearing a Scalper’s uniform, came to Kekionga as Mad-ant Vain’s messenger. Wakaya turned his back on his former brother and left the council to rejoin angry Southbranch kin. Wapmimi, who had a bride and child among the Southbranch kin, prepared to kill the defector, but was stopped by Sigenak.
Despite Will-well’s unforgivable stunt of having Redearth kin give the Valley to the Scalpers, Sigenak did not want his former son killed. He asked for a description of Will-well’s new brothers.
The defector obliged unstintingly. He said Mad-ant Vain had not recruited among the survivors of Harr-marr’s or Sundear’s defeats; he had recruited among the killers who had accompanied The Terror on the swath of gore from the Southland to the Wabash; his council included a young heir to a landgang named Will-hen-garrison who would stop at no obstacle. His scouts and spies, besides Will-well, included young Navar, son of Lemond’s former scrollkeeper, as well as Southern people who descended from mound builders and remembered the people of the Strait as Wabskeni’s murderous allies who destroyed the Nache and other kin. Mad-ant Vain’s men wouldn’t walk in neat rows, like Sun-clear’s, but loosely, like Rootkin—but not in order to escape freely, for there would be no escape; they were being broken, drilled, to kill any of their own who turned away from the enemy. Overman Ua-shn-tn was tired of feeding and provisioning armies who ran away. This army would go on killing until its last man fell.
The message Will-well brought, which was also his own, was that overman Ua-shn-tn did not want to war against Rootkin, but only against Redcoats; that Ua-shn-tn did not claim a single tree in the Beautiful Valley; that he recognized the Valley belonged to the people who lived in it. Will-well spoke as if he had forgotten whose victories had prompted Ua-shn-tn to drop his claims. He said Ua-shn-tn wanted only to help Rootkin keep the Redcoats from invading the Valley, as they’d begun to do with their new enclosure near Kekionga. And the Great Father Ua-shn-tn sent gifts: blankets, cloth and peace medals, to encourage his children to respond to his generous offer to help them.
Sigenak picked up one of the offered peace medals and showed it to those of us who were still at the gathering. At firsc glance the picture on the medal showed a Rootperson and an Invader extending their hands toward each other, a leafless tree behind the one, an ox-drawn tool scratching treeless earth behind the other. The man on the left was naked but the earth behind him was covered, the man on the right was covered but the earth behind him was naked. A second glance revealed that the naked man on the left had his right arm hanging at his side, his hand empty, holding neither bow nor hatchet; his left arm extended, not toward the other, but toward the bowl of a calumet the length of his arm; he stood unsteadily, as if he were full of rum or the Slavers’ drink Wiske; he was a rumsack who didn’t know where he was or why he was smoking. The man on the right, covered from his false hair to his boots, was the Slavers’ dear’s defeats; he had recruited among the killers who had accompanied The Terror on the swath of gore from the Southland to the Wabash; his council included a young heir to a landgang named Will-hen-garrison who would stop at no obstacle. His scouts and spies, besides Will-well, included young Navar, son of Lemond’s former scrollkeeper, as well as Southern people who descended from mound builders and remembered the people of the Strait as Wabskeni’s murderous allies who destroyed the Nache and other kin. Mad-ant Vain’s men wouldn’t walk in neat rows, like Sun-clear’s, but loosely, like Rootkin—but not in order to escape freely, for there would be no escape; they were being broken, drilled, to kill any of their own who turned away from the enemy. Overman Ua-shn-tn was tired of feeding and provisioning armies who ran away. This army would go on killing until its last man fell.
The message Will-well brought, which was also his own, was that overman Ua-shn-tn did not want to war against Rootkin, but only against Redcoats; that Ua-shn-tn did not claim a single tree in the Beautiful Valley; that he recognized the Valley belonged to the people who lived in it. Will-well spoke as if he had forgotten whose victories had prompted Ua-shn-tn to drop his claims. He said Ua-shn-tn wanted only to help Rootkin keep the Redcoats from invading the Valley, as they’d begun to do with their new enclosure near Kekionga. And the Great Father Ua-shn-tn sent gifts: blankets, cloth and peace medals, to encourage his children to respond to his generous offer to help them.
Sigenak picked up one of the offered peace medals and showed it to those of us who were still at the gathering. At firsc glance the picture on the medal showed a Rootperson and an Invader extending their hands toward each other, a leafless tree behind the one, an ox-drawn tool scratching treeless earth behind the other. The man on the left was naked but the earth behind him was covered, the man on the right was covered but the earth behind him was naked. A second glance revealed that the naked man on the left had his right arm hanging at his side, his hand empty, holding neither bow nor hatchet; his left arm extended, not toward the other, but toward the bowl of a calumet the length of his arm; he stood unsteadily, as if he were full of rum or the Slavers’ drink Wiske; he was a rumsack who didn’t know where he was or why he was smoking. The man on the right, covered from his false hair to his boots, was the Slavers’ overman himself, Scalper Ua-shn-tn; his left hand rested on a sword handle, ready to kill; he hadn’t buried either his rifle or his scalping knife; he stood solidly; the seeming outreach of his right arm toward the other’s calumet-supporting arm was actually a threatening gesture blocking the calumet smoker from stepping onto the scratched treeless field. The rumsack had nowhere to go but up the tree behind him.
Sigenak threw the medal to the ground and buried it with his foot. Kicking other gifts toward Will-well, he said he understood headman Vain’s message perfectly and would give his answer to it on the battlefield.
Aptegizhek, trying to reason with the defector, formulated a return message. He said most of the Invaders were desperate because they had nothing, like Aptegizhek’s own grandfather and Will-well’s father. The landgangs and Slaver Ua-shn-tn had much, and they used much of it on gifts for Rootkin and on armies sent against Rootkin. If they really wanted peace, they would call their desperate men back to the east and give them all the gifts and provisions. This way they would relieve their miserable men, allow denuded earth to recover, and leave us in peace.
But Will-well, despite all his winters and summers among Rootkin, was guided by fear, not by reason. He couldn’t grasp the unreason of a world where the fat feed on the lean, where the lean plunder for the fat instead of turning on them, where the fat protect themselves from the wrath of the lean by making the lean face the wrath of the plundered. Aptegizhek knew they didn’t really want peace, but Will-well seemed not to know that without wars of plunder the landgangs wouldn’t need armies to protect them from the plundered, and without armies they couldn’t have made their desperate men give either their harvests or their lives to overmen.
I accompanied the noncombatants who abandoned Kekionga before the battle. I found refuge in dead Mini’s, now Nizokwe’s silent lodge, on a spot on the Strait’s shore where, it was said, a two-branched tree and a roundish rock had once stood, monuments to the gift-bringer Wiske. Cakima was in the neighboring lodge, Namakwe’s, with her four children and heavy with a fifth. I played with Namakwe’s, Tinami’s, Nizokwe’s, Magda’s and my own grandchildren. I learned of the battle from messengers’ fragments.
Sigenak set out with Wakaya and a small party of warriors to meet Mad-ant Vain’s army as it moved past the desolate villages and burnt fields of Aptegizhek’s Southbranch and Eastbranch kin. Sigenak wanted to find out if Will-well’s description was accurate, or if this huge army, like the two before it, would double back on itself when Sigenak cried out and disintegrate when Sigenak’s small force leaped from the forest. The warriors returned to Kekionga unharmed, but with the news that the enormous force hadn’t budged.
The expedition made Sigenak cautious; the desolation of the Southbranch villages made Wakaya enraged.
Sigenak told the counciling warriors that Mad-ant Vain’s huge army was an inhuman thing, a thing that never slept. It was worse than the Redcoat army he had opposed forty summers earlier, Mad-win’s army on the Strait, determined to hold the enclosure until every man fell. Vain was certain his army would hold until every man fell. The threat that all who fled would be murdered by their own companions was no empty boast: men who had tried to flee from Vain’s camp were already dead. Those men feared the enemy less than they feared their headman; they would kill Rootkin for fear of being killed by their own men; they had been reduced to members of a being which existed not to protect and preserve them but to kill and keep on killing; they were parts of a monstrous worm which went on murdering no matter how many pieces it was cut into. The life of that army’s human constituents was neither its goal nor its limit. Such a monstrosity couldn’t be opposed by people who loved life. Human beings could not vie with it as death-dealers. No one among the people of the Lakes and Valleys could take on himself the responsibility for all the warriors who would fall before the monstrosity was stilled.
Wakaya expressed himself as willing to take on that awesome responsibility. He said earth would be shamed, the dead betrayed, if none among the living rose up against the Invaders’ unnatural deeds; the desolation cried for revenge.
Sigenak removed the pendant from his neck, the arrowhead given to him by Wagoshkwe, said to have come from the Redearth warrior Lamina, and placed it on Wakaya’s neck.
Sigenak knew and Nanikibi knew that the only alternative to Wakaya’s reckless willingness to confront the monster was to flee toward the sunset, toward the Plains where Wagoshkwe had fled. All Rootkin were now Redearth kin.
After the battle, Sigenak told the mourners gathered on the shore of the Strait that the warrior fought bravely and wisely.
Wakaya chose a position between the advancing army and the Redcoats’ enclosure on the fringe of Kekionga, and he chose well: the battleground was a field of trees blown over by the wind, with hiding-places for warriors ten times as numerous. The dead trees kept The Terror’s mounted force from getting anywhere near the battle. The attack was well timed, the ambush well prepared. The war cry followed by the volley from the fallen trees would have sent any earlier Scalper army scampering. But Vain’s men weren’t human, they had been remade into contrivances, they didn’t panic when surprised, they didn’t turn when ambushed, they didn’t run when their companions’ bodies littered the ground; they stood and shot, as soulless as their rifles, docile and unnatural, whip-trained like dogs or horses, broken humans without hearts or minds, their freedom flogged out of them. And then they came after the retrenching warriors with their steel knives. Sigenak was beside Nanikibi when a bullet hit Nanikibi’s leg. Nanikibi kept on aiming at the advancing Invaders like a young warrior on his first proving ground. Nanikibi told Sigenak of his childhood dream: a wounded fox in a field of dead animals had begged Nanikibi to avenge the dead. He was doing it.
Wakaya shouted the retreat. His ancestor Lamina was said to have learned from the Invaders to hold his ground until the last warrior fell; Lamina’s brave deed had a sad sequel. Wakaya had no taste for such bravery; only a murderer would invite his kin to remain in a death trap. Wakaya didn’t want to answer for all the deaths which would follow from such a decision. Sigenak approved, but his thoughtful brother Nanikibi, the peacemaker, did not approve; lame and bleeding, he stayed behind, downing another and still another Invader. Sigenak shouted to him that a single warrior couldn’t stop a moving wall. Nanikibi turned, not to seek safety, but to urge his brother to seek it, and while he was turned a bullet pierced his back.
Nanikibi wasn’t scalped. Sigenak hid his brother’s body in a hollow tree; he and Aptegizhek and Isador returned at night and buried Nanikibi in a grave near the source of Kekionga’s river.
Namakwe’s songmaker Bati, sad Nizokwe’s brother, was among the fallen. He too had been with the warriors who had inflicted two humiliating defeats on Scalper Ua-shn-tn forty summers earlier. Now they were all dead. Isador shed tears but said nothing.
Sigenak assured silent Nizokwe there would be no more battles. He urged his sister Namakwe to rejoice at the safe return of her brave son Nawak, of Pamoko’s hunter Dupre, of Mikenokwe’s redfrocked Shandone, who had stayed in the Redcoats’ enclosure next to the battlefield, not opening its gate even to retreating warriors seeking refuge there, and had fled with the other Redcoats to the Strait while Vain and his army were occupied hacking down trees, burning corn-rich fields, razing villages, turning the entire vast beautiful expanse that was Kekionga into a field of fallen trees.
Lean Sigenak gives me all that remains of his brother, the peacemaker’s bundle Nanikibi carried to so many battles. I see eagles darkening the sky, dead serpents covering the ground.
A cry comes from Namakwe’s lodge where my daughter lies, the cry of a newborn child. I turn to it.
From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org
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