TIME SPIKE – snippet 28:
Hulbert and Carmichael left. Andy turned to Edelman.
“I’ll go into the village alone. And I’ll leave the rifle behind.” He patted the pistol holstered to his hip. “I’m thinking they probably won’t recognize this as a weapon. Or, if they do, they’ll think it’s just a tiny little club.”
Edelman looked dubious.
“Jeff, they’ll be scared to death. And all they’ve got in the way of weapons are those decorated clubs. Probably ceremonial weapons.”
“Like hell they are! Andy, I hate to break the news to you, but those ‘decorations’ you’re talking about are actually inlaid pieces of obsidian or some other sharpened rock. Don’t kid yourself. Those are real no-fooling weapons. And your recollections about the Mounds Indians are on the money. ‘Bloody-minded,’ for sure. They found one mound with over two hundred skeletons in it, a lot of them missing their heads and hands. The Mounds Indians don’t seem to have been as purely murderous as the Aztecs, I grant you, but nobody in their right mind is going to confuse them with the mythical Noble Savage.”
Andy shrugged. “So our new world is not risk-free. What a shocker. I’m still doing it.” He glanced at the village, estimating the distances involved. “Look, we’ll compromise. You and the rest can move up within thirty yards, with your rifles ready. If the people in that village were watching the fight at all, they’ll know the guns can kill them at that distance if they try anything.”
He handed Edelman his rifle and started walking toward the open center of the village. He moved more slowly than he normally walked, to give the villagers time to realize what he was doing.
Once he reached the center, he looked around. Up close, he could see many pairs of eyes staring at him through gaps in the hut walls.
He tried talking for a while, in the hopes that one of them would come out. After a minute or so, realizing that an endless repetition of “I mean you no harm” was pointless as well as boring, he started reciting what he could remember of The Ballad of Eskimo Nell. When he ran out of verses he remembered, he went on with a recital of The Night Before Christmas. He’d committed that to memory when he was eight years old and, for whatever odd reason, had never forgotten a single line.
“…heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"
So much for slavering Aztec warriors. Andy had heard the theories that the Mounds Indians practiced ritual sacrifice. But, even if the theories were true, that was probably something done by their kings or chiefs or high priests. Whatever they had in the way of rulers. This was just a local village. The inhabitants were no more likely to be prone to ritual bloodshed than the residents of a small town in southern Illinois were likely to stage a New Orleans-style Mardi Gras parade.
“Screw it,” he muttered. “Deeds speak louder than words, and all that.”
He turned and hollered at Edelman and the others, watching him.
“They won’t come out! Gather up all the swords, all the armor, all the helmets—anything loose you can find in the way of weapons or tools or coins—and we’ll pile them up here. Then we’ll be on our way.”
That didn’t take but a few minutes. The guards were thorough, too. By the time they were done stripping the corpses, all that was left on them was their clothing. The resulting pile in the center of the village was pretty impressive. All except the two silver coins they found. Andy decided to highlight those by balancing them on top of a helmet at the center of the pile.
“Okay, let’s go.” He gave the villagers peeking at him one last slow look, turning almost completely around. Then, gave them a snappy salute and led the way out.
“What’ll they do, do you think?” asked Jeff.
Andy shrugged. “I have no idea. But I figure the one skill they’re bound to have is that they’ll be way better trackers than any of us are. If they decide they want to find us, they’ll manage it.”
“What do you mean these aren’t the same guys who attacked you? They have to be!” Jenny, usually so self-controlled, now seemed on the verge of tears. Her voice was shaking a little. She reached out and took Andy’s hand.
Stephen McQuade shook his head. “They are the same sort of men. But from what you described, I do not think they are the same men.”
He nodded toward the one Spaniard they’d kept alive. Jenny had attended to his wounds, as best she could. The man was conscious now, sitting upright and glaring at them. Andy hadn’t seen any need to tie his hands or feet. The gunshot wounds Rod had inflicted on him served that purpose just fine.
“I am certain this one was not among them,” McQuade said. “I would not have forgotten his face. Certainly not the blue coat.”
Andy wasn’t happy at the news, certainly, but he didn’t share Jenny’s distress, either. In retrospect, it was not surprising that De Soto would have several parties of soldiers foraging the area. The more parties he sent out, the greater the likelihood they’d find something useful. And given the disparity in military power between the conquistadores and the scattered groups of Indians, there wasn’t any real danger involved.
Or wouldn’t have been, if a twenty-first century prison with guards armed to the teeth hadn’t gotten caught in the mix. But there was no way De Soto could have foreseen that.
The questions that were now raised were:
How many men did De Soto have, all told? Where was his main force? How many other parties did he have scouring the area?
Andy was sure they were looking at a war. He’d do his best to negotiate with De Soto, but he didn’t have any real hopes anything would come of it. From what he could remember of his history classes and what Jeff said, the conquistadores rarely negotiated—and when they did, they were being duplicitous.
“Okay,” Andy said, “so these goons weren’t the ones who attacked you. Were the villagers part of the same people who befriended you?”
Stephen shrugged. “The description sounds the same. But I was only with them for less than a day, and never learned more than—I think—four or five words of their language.”
His English was perfectly fluent; even idiomatic, all the way down to the swear words. But the accent kept throwing Andy off a little. It was a weird combination of a heavy sorta-hillbilly accent with a cadence and occasional use of terms that reminded Andy, more than anything else, of a couple of Shakespeare plays he’d seen. He remembered reading somewhere that there was a theory that Appalachian dialects were actually the closest to Renaissance English. Apparently, the theory was right.
Edelman hissed. “How many people got caught in that damn Quiver, anyway?”
Andy rubbed his head, then shrugged. “There’s no way of knowing that. All we know for sure is the prison, the Cherokee, the Spaniards and the Mound People are here.”
Edelman shook his head. “I don’t think these are really Mounds people. In its heyday, the Mounds people were an advanced civilization for their time, and even for villagers these people seem too primitive. I think they’re more in the way of pre-cursors. Call them early Mississippian, the culture that eventually produced the Mounds people.”
“Okay, what else can you tell me about this area? I don’t care when you’re talking about. If they were within fifty miles or a hundred miles of the prison, sometime in the past, I need to know about them.”
“Not a lot.” Edelman looked at the volcano on the skyline. “Most of what I know is from working the local tourist traps as a teen-ager. Cahokia appeared sometime after 800 A.D., then disappeared around 1200 A.D. No one knows why. At their peak, they had over twenty thousand people.
“After they left, what would one day be called Illinois became part of a huge, empty corridor no one lived in. The area was still empty when de Soto came through three hundred years later.”
“Just our luck,” Rod muttered.
“Actually, I think we’re better off without them.” Jeff made a face. “They were farmers, hunters, builders and artists, yeah, so they’d have had more in the way of resources we could maybe trade for. But they were a people living in harsh times. They were capable of mass violence. They were also like a great many primitive cultures when it came time for a funeral. If an important person died, they would bury quite a few people with the dead. And you can bet your ass the people were not dead before the funeral rites. There has also been some evidence the Cahokia might have practiced a little cannibalism and some form of human sacrifice. That’s never been proven, but I wouldn’t want to have to find out the hard way.”
Later, Andy lay under a wool, state-issued blanket, listening to the sounds of the night and watching the stars. Exhausted, he’d thought he would fall asleep before his head hit his makeshift pillow. But he hadn’t. Instead, he lay there and thought about the last few days. Things, gone crazy the day of the Quiver, seemed to have escalated out of control. There were too many pieces to the puzzle and he had a feeling he still didn’t know who all was inside the woods.
He rolled over so he could look at Jenny. She was less than a yard away, wrapped in one of the flannel blankets used inside the infirmary. She was using her medical bag for a pillow. Her back was to him. In the dim light of the moon and stars he could see the rise and fall of breathing. He could also see the way her shoulders seemed to shake. She wasn’t asleep. She was crying.
He slid next to her and dropped his arm around her waist. Now he was close enough he could hear the small sobs. He didn’t say anything, and neither did she. Instead, she nestled against him. After a while, they were both asleep.