Council Of Fire – Snippet 15

Council Of Fire – Snippet 15

“And where is everyone now? Where are all the sachems, honored Tadodaho?”

“They are out,” the old man replied. “They are watching for enemies.”

Joseph was ready to ask another question, but Johnson rose slowly from his seat and took him by the elbow, leading him to the doorway of the longhouse.

“You are looking well, young Joseph,” Johnson said, placing his hands on Joseph’s shoulders. “Why have you come? The news of the Council Fire cannot have reached Canajoharie yet.”

“My father sent me. Something else has happened–a few hands of days ago we witnessed the spirits of the dead in the mists near Ticonderoga. They call for Abercromby.”

“What sort of spirits?”

Joseph was surprised that Johnson seemed unfazed by the idea of spirits in the mist. The Englishman–his patron in the world of the Europeans–had always been pragmatic and rational, respecting but never quite believing in the stories of the shamans of the Iroquois.

“They were Scotsmen, Sir William. General Abercromby sent them to their death against the French in their hill-fort. I remember. I watched it happen. The English general threw their lives away, throwing them at the French defenses.”

“Highlanders.” Johnson looked away. “Abercromby ordered the soldiers of the Highland Brigade against the abatis. The brave men were too proud to withdraw and too soldierly to refuse the order. And now . . . they are returning to walk the earth?”

“Excuse me, Sir William, but don’t you find that–strange? I would not have expected you to just accept the account as anything but a tale by a . . .”

“A savage.”

“Yes. The Tadodaho would accept this as true, but not a white man. I did not think you believed in such things.”

“Since the fall of the comet–the broom-star–I have come to believe many things. I was here the night it happened, a few sunrises before you saw your apparition. We were gathered around the Fire and suddenly there was a cloud of light, like mist. In an instant the Fire was snuffed out as if it was covered with a great dark blanket. The Tadodaho said that there had been an omen about this: a shaman had predicted that it would happen.”

“What else did he predict?”

Before Johnson could answer, they heard a cry from outside. Joseph hesitated for a moment as Johnson went to the door of the longhouse; the Tadodaho waved at him, indicating that he should go.

When he came out into the clearing, Joseph could see an apparition at the edge of the trees. Floating up near the upper branches was a hideous glowing object, shaped roughly like a large head. It had fiery eyes and long, tangled hair; its mouth was a rictus filled with sharp teeth, and it was muttering words that he could not understand.

Konearaunehneh,” Joseph whispered. “But–what has brought it?”

“It hardly matters,” Johnson said, coming up beside him. He had a musket in his hand and had picked up a powder-horn. “It means us harm.”

“I don’t know if a musket-ball will do anything to it,” Joseph said. “That is a creature of evil dreams.”

“It doesn’t seem to be affected by the warriors’ arrows,” Johnson said, pointing toward the two warriors shooting at it a dozen yards away.

Joseph squinted, looking at the hideous apparition in the bright moonlight. He could see–barely–a tendril of something, like a spider’s web but somewhat thicker, trailing from the bottom of the head toward the ground.

“What about that?” he said, pointing toward the trailing tendril.

“What?”

“The string. It hangs down from the head.”

“I don’t see anything.”

“I do,” Joseph said, and began to run toward the place where it seemed to trail on the ground.

He could hear Sir William Johnson call his name as he ran, and caught a glance of the two archers, who turned aside to see him, pausing in their attacks.

He could see the tendril clearly in front of him, and he reached out to grasp it–

It was as if he was looking at the world from a great height, like a huge mountaintop. The world was a long oval, extending from fields of ice in the north to steamy jungle in the south; it was ringed around with ridges of mountains rising from the sea. Far to the north and west was a great waterfall, taller than any he had ever seen; there was another far to the north and east, dropping off the edge of the world.

Sir William, and other whites, talked of a land from which they had come, across the eastern ocean. But it was not there: beyond the mountains in the sea there was nothing, only blackness. The world came to an end, and there was no more.

***

“He is stirring.”

Joseph opened his eyes to see Skenadoa sitting next to him, smoking a long clay pipe. Sir William Johnson was beside him, now bending down. The sky was deep blue above; Joseph was lying in a rope hammock.

“I–” he began, and coughed; he lifted his right hand to his mouth and found it covered in a bandage.

“I’ll fetch you some water,” Johnson said, and moved out of Joseph’s field of vision, then returned with a gourd. He helped Joseph to sit up and drink from it, but the world was full of blue spots and he fell back to lie flat.

“What happened?”

“I could ask you the same, young Joseph,” Skenadoa said, taking the pipe out, scowling at it, and tapping it against his boot. “You ran under the Flying Head and made some medicine. There was a bright flash and it floated away. When we reached you, your hands were burned and you had gone to sleep.”

“I saw something. I saw . . .”

“What did you see?” Johnson said.

“I think I saw the whole world, Sir William. I don’t know how that could be. But I could not see the land of your people, of the white people. The mountains are the edge of the world. There is nothing beyond.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You may not be meant to understand, Warraghiyagey,” Skenadoa said, using Sir William’s Iroquois name–Chief Big Business, the doer of great things. “But if there is no more land of the whites, then things have changed for all of us.”

“It might have been just a vision,” Sir William answered.

“I trust this one’s sight,” Skenadoa said. “But we will have much to consider. It is well that we are at peace–for now.”

 

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