Witchy Winter – Snippet 07
He turned his head slowly to one side to look. An Indian sat cross-legged a few feet away, looking closely at him. The man didn’t wear the trousers and coat of a Cherokee, or the colorful shirt of a Haudenosaunee. He was bare-chested, and wore leather leggings and moccasins, and he seemed to be unarmed. His broad face was handsome, with jet-black hair, strong jaw and cheekbones, a high forehead, and clear eyes. His mouth was set in a cryptic, expressionless line.
No — there, a few feet away, a bow and a rifle and an axe all lay against a fallen log. The man wasn’t unarmed, but he was deliberately sitting away from his weapons.
~I itch, I burn!~
Nathaniel tried to scratch his ear and found he couldn’t raise his arm. His head pounded.
“Do I still have my arms and legs?” he asked.
“Henh.” The Indian nodded. “I just wrapped you up tight. It was cold.”
“Thank you,” Nathaniel said.
“We’re pretty far out here in the forest, and I don’t know if you’re going to be walking anytime soon. We get hungry, we might have to eat one of your legs. Maybe I should just take it off now, hang it up and let it start drying, na?”
The casual tone of the Indian’s voice and his completely straight face struck terror into Nathaniel’s soul.
Then the man laughed, his face breaking into a crinkled grin. “I’m joking, Zhaaganaashii. Where’s your sense of humor?”
Nathaniel’s heart pounded. “Maybe it’s tied up. Like the rest of me.”
“You’re not tied up, Zhaaganaashii. You’re wrapped up, like a dakobinaawaswaan. Like a baby, na? Wrapped in a cradleboard, so it can’t run away from its mother.”
“You don’t want me to run away?”
“Maybe I look like your mother, na?” The Indian laughed again. “No, I would be a very ugly mother and you’re much too good-looking. I don’t want you to hurt yourself. You knocked yourself pretty good falling down that hill, and you bled a lot. I wrapped you to help keep you from opening the wounds by moving too much.”
“I didn’t knock myself. And I didn’t just fall down that hill.” The whining in his ears grew more shrill, making it hard for Nathaniel to even produce words.
The Indian nodded. “No, it was your friend, Landon.”
Nathaniel stared. “Who are you?”
The Indian ground at the dirt with his moccasin heel. “I’m going to stop calling you Zhaaganaashii, because I know your name. Your name is Nathaniel.”
“What is Zhaaga . . . anyway?”
“It means English. English-speakers. Cavaliers and Yankees and Appalachee and Pennslanders, you’re all Zhaaganaashii.”
“In Lenni Lenape?” It was a guess.
“No, I’m not one of the grandfathers. I’m Ojibwe, or Anishinaabe. However you want to say it.”
“One of the Algonk peoples? Like the Massachusett or the Natick?”
“Henh.” The Indian laughed. “If I can lump all you Zhaaganaashii together, I guess you can lump together the Algonks.”
Nathaniel felt the urge to sing. It was childish, but he was tied up like a baby, so he went ahead:
Look east, look west, look here, look there
Algonk Electors come from everywhere
Outside the empire, they’re “wild” or “free”
Those inside send Electors three:
Wampanoag, Massachusett, Mi’kmaq, Sauk
Nanticoke, Chickahominy, Shawnee, Fox
Look north, look south, look up, look down
Thirty-six votes for the empire’s crown
As the song ended, Nathaniel realized that the ringing in his ears had stopped. He held his breath and said nothing, hoping the din might have disappeared permanently.
“Henh.” The Indian smiled. “That’s me, Chippewa. Or Ojibwe, or Anishinaabe. Same thing. I guess Chippewa rhymed best.”
“How do you know my name?” Nathaniel asked. The shrieking sound returned, but softer than it had been.
The Ojibwe’s face grew serious. “I’ve come a long way to meet you, Nathaniel. I need you to help my child, and I’m supposed to help you first. You see, I’ve been told you can heal my son Giimoodaapi.”
“Are you some sort of wizard?” Nathaniel asked. He had never imagined the magical college in Philadelphia teaching Algonk adepts, but what did he know? “Or a medicine man?”
“Oh, no,” the Ojibwe said. “I’m no Midewiwin. I’m just a man who has seen his manidoo. My name is Ma’iingan. It means wolf, in Zhaaganaashii.”
“My name means god has given. That’s what the parson says, anyway, when he tries to get me to come to his church. In Greek, I suppose, or Latin.”
“Maybe Gichi-Manidoo has given you a wolf then, na?”
Nathaniel grinned. “So far, it’s better than everything else He’s given me.” He turned his head back to look up through the tree branches. “Where am I?”
“That’s the hill Landon threw you down.” Ma’iingan pointed. “That means you’re in Johnsland. You’re out in the forest, beyond where the earl’s Irish farmers live and where his priests kill sheep.”
“I feel very far from home.”
“Not so far. But all distances look long to a baby in a cradleboard, na?”
“How did you find me, and how do you know my name?”
“I had a vision.” From his smile, the Indian might have been telling a subtle joke. “I saw my manidoo. I went looking for him so he could help my son, and he showed me where to find you.”
“On a map?”
“In the vision. I’ve traveled in the Turtle Kingdom before, so I know the biggest rivers and the big lakes.”
“The Turtle Kingdom. Do you mean the Empire?”
“Henh. All this land is Turtle Island. On account of it’s on the back of a very large turtle, which Nanaboozhoo piled high with dirt. Or a muskrat, some say. Or maybe Nanaboozhoo is a muskrat. It’s hard to tell sometimes, with those old stories.”
“We mostly call it the New World.”
“Henh, you Zhaaganaashii would do that. But then, you got here late, so it’s new to you. And I know your name because I heard you and your friends talking the other day. I saw you when you were hunting.”
“They’re not really my friends.”
“Henh. Charles, maybe, na?”
“Yes, Charles. George is the earl’s legitimate son. Landon is also the earl’s son. He’s not legitimate, but that doesn’t really matter. They both don’t like me and they don’t have to respect me.”
Ma’iingan’s face looked sad. “Henh. Well, I heard them say your name. Nathaniel. God-Has-Given. And for today, I think you should conclude that Gichi-Manidoo has given you another chance, because if I hadn’t come along on the path shown to me by my manidoo, you would have died a cold and lonely death.”
Nathaniel nodded slowly. “I would have died. No one will look for me.”
“No? Why not? You have friends. At least Charles. Maybe the earl, the man whose house you live in, na? It’s a big house.”
“The earl won’t care. I’m just a foster child, just a mouth to feed. And Charles didn’t look for me when he could have.”
“I think he did. But he went the wrong way. Maybe he’ll come back later and find us here, na? But for now, you lie still. I’m going to cook a rabbit. Don’t get too hungry, though, Zhaaganaashii Nathaniel, today you only get the broth.”
The broth of a boiled rabbit sounded very good to Nathaniel. Before he could say thank you, or ask whether the Ojibwe planned to return him to the earl’s big house, he found himself drifting back to sleep.
~Listen to him, listen to him, listen to him.~
The Joe Duncan slid smoothly into place at the end of the pier. Two men working paddles up front — a German from Youngstown named Schäfer and a Haudenosaunee whose name sounded like Dadgayadoh and who wore fringed leather leggings, a red blanket over one shoulder, and a black top hat — leaped to the dock and steadied the craft.
The Joe Duncan was a big canoe, built of light wood and painted Imperial blue. As a nod to economy, the canoe did without gold trim or the Company’s seal — two stags rampant standing in a single long canoe, holding between them a shield on which was painted an outline of the courses of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, with a pitchfork-holding farmer standing inside the junction beside his mule and plow, and a beaver on all fours atop the shield — painted on its hull. Ironically, as the company’s only canoe of that size without trim, seal, or name, the economy made the craft instantly recognizable as the Joe Duncan.
It was a really big canoe; Luman had seen it hold at one time fifteen adults, along with bales of furs, personal gear for all fifteen, and the ‘cash box,’ which in fact held very little cash, but was a waterproofed chest kept inside an oiled leather bag, mostly holding papers of various sorts — trading post balances, log books, order books, and drafts for money. The drafts were negotiable, but weren’t the sort of money a highwayman would generally think of as cash.