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Tahinya's Display of Power
Well, my brother, so you've heard! The Petuns are murdered, enslaved! Etharita a charred ruin! Corn fields return to forest! Hunting grounds for Iroquois league swine! My chief, those treacherous dogs have destroyed your people, and the Hurons. Now it's the Deer people they're after. Surely, brother, you'll speak this day of war! Of avenging the murder of your wife and sons!'
Tahinya aimed her bellicose words at her husband's longtime friend and blood brother, Ekarenni, a celebrated Petun war chief and long-distance trader who'd arrived in Ounontisaston only the previous day, after an arduous journey from the Cherokee country.
Ekarenni's dazed eyes stared out of a faded tattoo mask, northward, over the flailing tops of the oaks on the far side of the ravine. Beneath his wool blanket his tall gaunt frame trembled with exhaustion; his head reeled from the sight of hundreds of destitute Petun refugees crowded into Ounontisaston's longhouses. Distraught, and immersed in the intricacies of a startling new dream, he scarcely heard the fiery greeting of his old ally. He was only dimly aware of the Hawk mother's plans to outfit a second war party against the Senecas -- and wholly ignorant of her expectation that he would lead it.
Violent winds lashed Ounontisaston's lofty sand knoll as Tahinya and Ekarenni confronted each other beneath the eave of a ramshackle drying shed. Well before dawn, blasts of southeast wind had begun to shriek across the great lake of the Iroquois, and to roar across the rich tableland of forest and deer meadow above the Niagara escarpment. Squalls of hail and wet snow had assailed the Deer people's hilltop capital throughout the morning; and a bone-chilling cold had seeped into the old town's decaying lodges.
Beneath the eave of the ramshackle drying shed, gusts of wind snatched at the wide brim of Tahinya's black wool felt hat, and at the fringes of her soiled deerskin tunic, and at Ekarenni's filthy blanket and greasy mop of uncombed hair.
Certain that the Petun knew of her war plans -- and that in his own good time he would volunteer to captain her army -- the Hawk mother waited confidently. Standing motionless, expressionless, the hem of her short scarlet cape clutched tight against the gusts, she gazed past Ekarenni to the ribbon of stubbly corn fields that wound between sparse stands of hickory down Ounontisaston's eroded southeastern slopes.
Her eyes shone as she thought of the new town site the council of clan mothers had chosen...near an old flint quarry on the lower reaches of the Tinatouaa river, close to the shores of the great lake of the Eries. She thought of the snug, sweet-smelling lodges that would soon rise on the new site...of the sturdy young saplings and abundant supplies of firewood in the forests nearby. Her heart leapt at the vision of fertile new fields bringing in huge harvests of corn and beans and squash.
Ekarenni's silence dragged on and the Hawk mother's optimism slowly ebbed away. From the ribbon of corn fields her gaze shifted to the large cemetery beside the drying shed. She listened to the wind crackling in the raspberry bushes around the huge plot, thinking of the hundreds of townspeople buried without ceremony during the years of the Great Dying. She watched the canes splinter and break in the violent squalls and thought of the many hands needed to prepare new fields...to collect firewood...to cut saplings and bark shingles for new lodges... For a time, with a sad fierce pride she thought of her beloved son, the Chosen One -- the son who'd been caught in the Seneca ambush with Chaboyer the Quebec fur trader.
Squinting up from beneath her hat brim, she looked furtively at Ekarenni's face; her eyes narrowed and her mouth tightened in dismay. After a moment she scowled down at the jutting barrel of his new flintlock musket. She thought angrily of the paltry supply of hatchets and swords and spears she'd managed to scrape together for her army...Of the blankets and moccasins and biscuits and cornmeal she'd still to come up with. Her ears echoed with the groans of the Petun and Huron braves over their lack of powder and shot and broken-down matchlock muskets. With the cries of the Deer warriors for muskets old or new! She listened again to the howls of outrage over the flintlocks the Iroquois had obtained from the Dutch with stolen furs.
A gust of wind hurtled around the corner of the drying shed, flinging open Ekarenni's blanket. Startled, she looked up; on the Petun's quivering chest she saw a bronze Crucifixion medallion dangling from a grimy blue ribbon. She peered eagerly at the image of the tortured man hanging at the centre of a wooden cross -- until the unthinking war chief reached up and drew together the edges of his blanket, causing the long barrel of the flintlock to rear up in front of her face. Affronted by this heedless act of disrespect, and riled by the disappearance of the medallion, the Hawk mother glowered out across the graveyard.
She thought angrily of the two Black Robes who'd worn such medallions...the two Black Robes who'd arrived in Ounontisaston during the time of the Great Dying...who'd traipsed about the countryside trying to turn the Deer people against their Ancient Word! The two Black Robes who'd been chased out of the Huron towns for spreading sickness and death...Who'd been accused of witchcraft and sorcery!
'Why should the Petun wear the totem of the French sorcerers?' she whispered in a burst of fury. She squinted a second time up into Ekarenni's dazed eyes. 'I'll dream the captain a dream he'll not soon forget!'
Releasing the hem of her cape so that the scarlet cloth billowed in the winds, she reached up and retrieved from beneath her tunic bodice the shaft of quartz-crystal that hung in a web of gut thread between her breasts. With the glassy rock pressed tight in her palm beneath the cape, she riveted her gaze on the protruding tip of Ekarenni's bone ear ornament, and in a high, oddly thin, singsong voice began to recite the story of the Etharita massacre.
Paralysis spread quickly through the Petun's exhausted body. Soon he stood like a rooted stone, staring blindly into the north toward the abandoned homeland of his people, listening aghast to the Hawk mother's age-old forest lament of stealth and surprise, of mayhem and murder. In his deaf ears her shrill uncanny voice seemed to fuse with the sounds of the roaring winds and the urgent springtime waters in the creek at the bottom of the ravine. This maelstrom of sound expanded, swirled and eddied around Ekarenni. He watched in terror as his eagle spirit rose up and departed his body, and followed the rushing creek waters as they left the ravine and flowed westward out onto the wide floodplain of the grand Tinatouaa.
Ekarenni's eagle spirit -- pellucid wings motionless in the wind-blown sky -- soared high above the narrow waters of the Tinatouaa. Northward, up the broad valley that thirteen thousand years earlier had been carved by meltwater from the last great glacier. Beyond the river, and the vast swamp containing the Tinatouaa's headwaters, twilight shimmered on ice floes in the bay of the Hurons. Far ahead, in the bay's northwest corner sprawled Manitoulin: sacred isle of the Algonkian hunters, and rocky tip of Niagara's escarpment. On the south shore of the bay stood the scarp's highest peaks: carved by streams that had carried water and clay and sand down to the Ocean Sea for two hundred and fifty million years before the great glaciers had begun their work.
Ekarenni's eagle spirit halted its flight above the escarpment's highest peaks, for these formed the long brow of the Blue Mountain: homeland of the Petuns. The eagle spirit drifted slowly over the crevassed rock face of the Blue Mountain, then, suddenly, plummeted towards the earth.
And from Ounontisaston's lofty sand knoll, as the Hawk mother's voice rose to a shriek above the raucous winds, Ekarenni watched as the pretty town of Etharita began to burn. He watched his wife and two young sons run screaming from their longhouse...watched the three wallow in deep snows before a blazing palisade...watched them stumble and fall amid a windswept corn field...watched a huge Seneca leap from behind a hemlock tree...and...wield an iron sword...
The Petun gasped and swore aloud, staggering back against the eave of the drying shed. The Hawk mother ended her recital, abruptly, with a vigorous shake of her head, a gesture that dislodged her hat upwards and revealed on her headband the faded quill-work emblem of the Niagara flint-knappers.
Avoiding the Petun's eyes, she muttered between gasps, 'Only a death can cover a death!'
Ekarenni's response was a reckless outburst of ill-humour. 'I'll get my revenge!' he snarled. And then added in a high-pitched voice that attempted, quite inexpertly, to mimic Tahinya's own, 'But tell me my Mother, am I to set out this day for Sonnontouan, to kill the dog Hodenio? Or do I start for Quebec, to drive my hatchet into the heads of the French sorcerers?'
A second sharp prickling assailed Ekarenni's left ear lobe, but this time it led only to a forgotten memory: to an account he'd once heard of Tahinya's unusual birth and 'down-fended' childhood, and to the rumours of her magical powers.
Presently, in soft, anguished tones, he murmured, 'The Black Robes, my sister. It is they who sowed the seeds of my people's destruction. My words describe well enough the conflict in my heart!'
The Hawk mother did not reply. She stood listlessly in front of the Petun, her eyes glazed, her breath ragged. Eventually she scowled down again at the flintlock.
For a time she thought of the Huron war captains who'd sought refuge in the Deer capital. The long-dead Huron war captains who'd laughed and joked about becoming Christians in order to receive muskets from the Black Robes. And then she remembered that Ekarenni's shiny new musket fired only when a piece of iron struck a tiny bit of flint.
Now her thoughts shifted to the narrow cobble beach by the lake of the Eries where she'd collected her first flints, and to the nearby village where she'd lived at her grandmother's hearth and learned the knapper's craft from her grandfather. She thought of her grandfather with a sigh of joy.
Then, suddenly, she recalled a brilliant green obsidian dagger he'd once knapped for Tsouharissen. Her eyes gleamed with pride at the memory of the glassy stone dagger, the prize of her grandfather's career. Her eyes gleamed too at the thought of Tsouharissen, 'Child of the Sun' -- the famous war chief who had welded the Niagara clans into one mighty nation. The toolstones, the Hawk mother remembered fondly, had played no small role in Tsouharissen's successful bid to link together the Deer people.
But now she turned and squinted out between the log slats of the drying shed. The high chief's bones lay mouldering in a hillside grave, only a stone's throw away. And her grandfather too was gone.
Her eyes desolate, Tahinya stared through the slats at the wide crumbling slopes of the gulley that bisected the hilltop clearing Tsouharissen's axemen had hacked out of the forest so long ago. Across the gulley stood the council lodge where the high chief had kept his hearth -- the huge wooden council lodge he'd once likened to a great overturned canoe. A violent gust struck the corner of the drying shed and the Hawk mother reached up and snatched at her wide hat brim. The council lodge, she reminded herself grimly, that now contained the hearth of The Coward Dotak.
For a time she thought of the calamitous results of the decision to appoint Dotak as the new Deer chief. High office had soon corrupted The Coward's weak character. He had become addicted to French brandy; and to gambling with others' possessions; worse still, to the hoarding of precious goods. Now, only a few short years after the death of Tsouharissen, the bonds linking the Deer people were dissolving. Now, despair alone ruled the fair lands of Niagara.
For one terrible moment she thought of the appalling family tragedy that had prevented The Sun's Child from leaving an heir to carry on his government. Then she thought of her grandfather, of his sad eclipse when Tsouharissen's demand for flint blades had all but disappeared with the arrival of the men of iron.
Another violent gust struck the drying shed and the Hawk mother reached up and slammed her hat on straight. She thought again of the miserable bit of flint in Ekarenni's musket. She knew all too well the value of Niagara flint -- and Niagara deerskins -- in a market demanding iron muskets and worn-out beaver robes!
Ekarenni started in alarm. 'My mother!' he cried out, 'Fear not. I'll fight the Senecas soon enough! Last night my guardian came to me.'
'So, it's true, my brother, a dream has been sent to guide you,' Tahinya murmured hollowly. 'I thought as much,' she added, in a sudden, agreeable voice. 'You're not like another I could name, who ridicules and scorns the ancestors.'
Tahinya's veiled complaint against her husband was not lost on Ekarenni, but now it was the Petun who refused to be won over by soft words. He stood watching in stony silence as scores of Hawk clansfolk -- and their Huron and Petun guests -- poured out of longhouses in Ounontisaston's northwest quadrant and began to make their way towards Tahinya's cluttered patch of land at the edge of the ravine.
When another fierce gust struck the drying shed, the Hawk mother flinched, then cried out, pleading, 'My chief, your brother grows more stubborn and foolish each day! He refuses to join in the fight against the Iroquois. He talks of journeying to the Northwest to find a new homeland! He does nothing but sit about with a long face dreaming up songs. And speaking out against the heart ceremony! My chief! Talk to your brother of these things, this is what I ask of you.'
Ekarenni did not reply. As the first group of visitors skirted the old graveyard and hurried past the drying shed, he forgot about the Hawk mother and began frantically to scan the faces of the braves. But then he saw widows and children from the Blue Mountain. The familiar features of these women and children recalled afresh to him the enormity of his losses; and the sense of collapse and disintegration he'd felt at seeing for the first time the hundreds of homeless Petuns crammed into the lodges of the old Deer capital.
Giving up his feverish scrutiny, Ekarenni stood once again, dazed and trembling, staring northward out across the ravine. The bright images of his dream faces faded away before his eyes; in their place came the awful memory of his eagle spirit plummeting to earth.
A rustling occurred in the far corner of the drying shed. Whirling around, Tahinya spied two female meadowlarks huddled together in a makeshift nest. She eyed the birds nervously for a time, then looked around to find one lot of visitors filing past Shalinka's freshly dug tobacco patch. At the sight of these visitors her nervousness increased -- for the guests that this Hawk family had in tow were not Petuns, or Hurons, but Deer people.
Glancing sidewise at the oblivious Ekarenni, the Hawk mother lamented once again the gathering she'd convened in his honour. 'The dream-struck war captain isn't fit to speak of his travels,' she sniffed resentfully, 'let alone to try and knock some sense into Shalinka.'
The Hawk family trooped around the empty bear pen and disappeared behind the rubbish mound. Tahinya thought again of the Deer town of Onguiaahra near the mouth of the Niagara river -- and of the army of Seneca and Oneida braves who'd attacked the town. Many Onguiaahra people had been taken prisoner during the raid; others, wishing to remain with captured relatives -- and relying on promises of fair treatment -- had simply picked up and joined their attackers. The Hawk mother sneered at the thought of Quois promises. But then she remembered how many willing listeners the 'single leaguers' had found among the discouraged and demoralized inhabitants of Tsouharissen's old outpost.
Tahinya eyed the meadowlarks again. She thought it likely the two females had been torn apart from their spouses in the storms swirling round the bay at the end of the lake of the Iroquois. Her eyes narrowed when she thought of her own spouse: of his strenuous objections when she'd outfitted an army to avenge the raid on Onguiaahra; of his shameful dereliction of duty when after scoring a huge victory over the Seneca town of Gandachiragon her army had returned with prisoners to sacrifice. But as she gazed at the meadowlarks she grew more and more uneasy, and wished she'd heeded Shalinka's advice about the hearth gathering.
When the last of the visitors had filed past the drying shed, the Hawk mother motioned to Ekarenni and the two set slowly off along the footpath. As she slipped behind the bark curtain that hung across the mouth of her longhouse, Tahinya regretted using her magic powers on the war captain. 'The Petun will be taking me for a sorcerer next,' she muttered gloomily.
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