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Hannoe in the Blasted Log
Hidden deep within the hollow recesses of a fallen tree limb, Old Hannoe watched unseen as a hundred enemy warriors scrambled noisily up the gravel terraces of the creek bank and sauntered casually across the strip of wet meadow. The huntress listened in amazement as the braves -- amid much raucous laughter and just beyond her range of vision -- assembled in groups beneath five enormous oaks at the edge of a forest that lay only a half-day's walking from Ounontisaston.
'How did the Quois devils get so close?' she murmured into the frigid gloom of the blasted log. What had happened to Dotak's scouts? Why hadn't they carried word to the Deer capital?
Hannoe knew only too well of times when scouts were unable to warn their people of danger. She lived each day with memories of her own terrible failure. But the reckless conduct of these enemy braves had aroused her suspicions from the start. Now she squirmed up the cramped passageway to the log's jagged opening and listened carefully to their shrill banter. She needed more than just her knowledge of the Seneca tongue to unravel the jokes, for Hurons too were calling out heedlessly in the silent midday woods. All too soon she confirmed her fears. A raid on the Deer capital was in the works! Dotak had never sent out the scouts demanded by the council of elders. He'd made some sort of pact with the Senecas!
The thought of such treachery made Hannoe shake her head in disgust; in so doing, she struck her ear on the hard edge of an oak-gall. 'The Coward's earned a hatchet-in-the-head this time for sure,' she muttered hotly. Her breath formed a tiny cloud in the rain falling on the brown grass in front of the blasted log.
Suddenly, she remembered her new husband. 'I must escape and warn Shalinka!' she whispered. 'Hivounti and Lante must be warned too, and the children!' But when she thought of her new sister-wife, Tahinya, the proud Hawk mother, she fell silent; her eyes dimmed, and she recalled the dire straits she herself was in.
For a time the old huntress stopped listening to the enemy braves. Instead, she focused her gaze on a lump of grey flintstone sticking up out of the meadow. She thought of the corn growers' old story Shalinka had recited at the New Year's festival, the story of the divine twins Smooth Mind Sapling the Creator and the volatile passionate Wrinkled Mind Flint who’d gone insane. Flint, she recalled, when ready to be born to the daughter of the sky woman Aataentsic, had used the sharp comb on his head to slice his way out of his mother's body by way of her armpit -- and so had killed her. Then she thought of the wooden comb that always stuck up out of Tahinya's hair.
When she shifted her gaze to the patch of flint quarry sprawling up the terraces across the creek, she thought again of the proud Hawk mother, of her reputation as a master flint-knapper. She remembered Tahinya talking on and on about this quarry, remembered her saying it was control of these very flint beds that had led to Tsouharissen's early successes. The lumps of grey toolstone had provided the war chief and his people with valuable items of exchange -- and a ready supply of good quality weapons.
A burst of loud laughter sounded in the oak woods. Hannoe frowned, thinking of the iron muskets she'd seen slung across the backs of the Quois braves who'd crossed the meadow in front of her log.
But now fear went through her like a snake. Limbs trembling, heart pounding, she watched the war captain Hodenio lumber up the gravel bank and stride directly towards her. Not daring to move, screwing shut the whites of her eyes, she held her breath. Moments later, through slit eyelids, she saw the huge Seneca standing in the middle of the meadow only twenty paces from her hiding place -- but looking in the opposite direction. Seizing her opportunity, she squirmed back down the log's cramped passageway.
She was all eyes and ears and memories as Hodenio stood gazing at the tall oak across the meadow. Beneath his dark grey blanket she saw the outline of a musket; as he turned and glowered towards her log, she heard the shrill laughter of his braves in the woods behind her oak. When he shoved aside his blanket to get at his food pouch, she counted twelve coup lines carved into his massive right thigh -- each for an enemy brave killed with his own hands.
'Ungrateful oaf!' she shuddered, scowling out at the hulking captain. 'After Tsouharissen saved your skin, you went off and murdered Shalinka's son. And the family of his Petun brother!'
As Hodenio gnawed on a piece of deer meat, Hannoe looked up at the oak-gall, wishing it were edible. Then she thought of Tahinya's cross words about her being a tree-eater. Stifling a sigh, she began to recall everything she knew about Hodenio. Tsouharissen had given him refuge six or seven winters ago...soon after she'd arrived in Ounontisaston to live with her nephew. The Seneca captain had been badly wounded, his men starving...Hurons had been chasing him...or perhaps Ottawas...some of her own people...
The old huntress broke off this last thought. To pursue it, she knew, would only bring her more pain. She'd watched her branch of the powerful Ottawa nation dwindle away to nothing from hideous diseases and ruinous wars. After a long pause she remembered the name of Hodenio's home town, Sonnontouan; it was full of single-leaguers -- the Quois devils who wanted all the corn growers in the forests to become one people.
A group of heavily-laden women filed across the meadow in front of Hannoe's log. As they disappeared, a tall stooped man with long bowed legs hoved into view heading for the oak tree behind Hodenio. A tattered beaver robe flapped about the man's thin frame, and long wisps of black hair stuck out from beneath his red wool cap. Hannoe recognized at once the Seneca oki, Hickatoo; he too had been a guest in Ounontisaston. She recognized the oki's red cap from reports of the Etharita massacre: he'd stolen the cap from the dead body of the Black Robe Garnier.
Hickatoo circled the oak four times, hopping about the trunk's immense girth in an odd jittery way, and stopping repeatedly to peer down at the ground, or up through the tree's gnarled branches. Only when he was satisfied that no harmful spirits lurked nearby did he signal Hodenio and his men to approach.
Twenty Seneca braves straggled across the meadow in front of Hannoe's blasted log. The old huntress noted in disgust that not one of them stopped to check for tracks. The braves laughed and joked as they got out food and then bundled their pouches and clan pennants and badges into their blankets. As they hoisted two of their number into the oak to hang up the bundles, Hannoe watched Hickatoo take some red paint out of his medicine bundle and begin to draw Turtles on the oak's trunk.
When he finished the Turtle clan totems, Hickatoo signaled Hodenio's men to sit down at the base of the oak. Several braves moved slowly to obey this command and the sharp-eyed huntress saw the oki's nostrils quiver with rage. The braves' show of disrespect brought a thin smile to Hannoe's lined face. To her the Seneca oki wasn't a Powerful One at all. Those great personages were shamans and they were to be found in the north woods among the hunters. She snorted in disdain as Hickatoo began to check behind each brave to see that his back wasn't touching the oak's bark before giving him a dollop of war paint. But her eyes grew solemn when two braves refused the paint; she knew that dreams prevented the two from going to war this day.
Soon the oki wafted the first puffs of tobacco smoke to the earth's four quarters, and to the Sun. Then he passed the sacred calumet to Hodenio. After taking his whiff, the Seneca captain passed the pipe in turn to each of his braves. During the ceremony Hickatoo gripped the long staff of his iron spear and stared at the braves with cold watery eyes. Hannoe knew that the braves' contempt for the old ways of war frightened the oki. She knew too that Hickatoo blamed such arrogance on the muskets of the Europeans -- and that he'd likely tried to talk Hodenio out of carrying so many firearms against the Deer capital. His success could be measured on the clan totems: all but his own Turtle held a musket.
Hannoe tallied up the Senecas' store of weapons: their kegs of gunpowder and bags of shot; their iron axes and cutlasses and iron-tipped arrows; the iron knives they doubtless had sheathed in their moccasins. When she finished, she thought of her own paltry arms. 'A digging stick and a stone fleshing knife won't be much use against this lot,' she murmured dryly.
After the calumet ceremony, Hickatoo began to harangue Hodenio and his men. In a high brittle voice he reminded them that the Souls of dead Seneca warriors now lived in the Deer country and would be watching to see if the old ways were observed. He spoke at length of the rituals the braves must observe if they became enemy-slayers. Hannoe's ears perked up when he glared at two of the youngest braves and reminded them shrilly that fucking was forbidden during military campaigns -- and that any French brandy found in Ounontisaston must not be drunk. The oki ended his harangue by raising his spear and pledging the hearts of enemy braves to the Sun God Areskoui.
Afterwards, Hodenio set about inflaming the passions of his men. In feigned tones of outraged innocence he recited a list of atrocities committed against the Senecas by the Deer people -- and by the hoards of Hurons and Petuns sheltering in their midst.
'What a liar!' Hannoe gasped into the gloom of the blasted log. 'These are the same Quois devils who destroyed Onguiaahra!'
When Hodenio finished his harangue, he knelt down and began to pry open a keg of gunpowder. But now the braves rose and clustered around him and the huge Seneca lurched to his feet and waved them off -- warning them to be careful of the powder and not to let sparks fall into the kegs.
As the braves lined up to fill the two powder horns that hung from cords around their necks, Hannoe thought of the Hawk mother's story about the first gunpowder ever brought to the Deer capital. Someone in the town, Tahinya had said -- a man or a woman she wouldn't say which -- had planted a handful of the stuff among the corn, thinking it might grow.
Ach! Hannoe remembered, sighing. How the Hairy Ones had laughed at that!
Later, in the bear's den, Hannoe explained to Lante that it was just at this point, when Hodenio was filling the powder horns, and dusk was falling fast in the woods behind him, that an Oneida scout arrived in the meadow. The five Seneca war parties had departed abruptly, and she'd been able to escape from her hiding place and make her way back to Ounontisaston.
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