1637 No Peace Beyond The Line – Snippet 31

Chapter 17

Just outside San José de Oruña, Trinidad

 “I am O’Donnell,” replied Hugh, “and I do speak Spanish, as does my second-in-command, Aodh O’Rourke. We thank you for honoring us with an invitation to speak to you in your war-camp.”

Hyarima acknowledged the thanks, looked around at his warriors, who seemed to be more surprised than ever. “You do us honor to come. The Dutchmen have spoken of you. They said you were a war captain and leader of your people. They also told us that you are, as they say, a ‘man of your word.’ We welcome this. Not all of the men who come from over the sea keep their word. No matter what language they speak.”

O’Donnell nodded. “I understand. I am grateful you do not assume I am like them.”

Hyarima almost smiled as he gestured that they should sit. “I already know you are not like them.”

Hugh raised an eyebrow. “How do you know this?”

Hyarima nodded. “You have manners. You act like a Person. You treat me as a Person. O’Rourke and his friend Calabar did no less when they met my cousin Sukumar last year. They too, acted as Persons. All this is well.”

From the emphasis Hyarima put on the word “Person,” Hugh gathered it meant something akin to a “civilized person.” “How else would one act?” he wondered aloud.

Hyarima’s face became less expressive. “Men from your lands over the sea are often aloof at first, as a cacique might be with the youngest of his tribe. But then, if they need something from us, they change. They bring gifts and speak as does a captured warrior to the chief of his enemies, wringing hands, promising to do things that have not even been asked of them. But then, after we help them and they become strong again, they return to treating us as children. Bad children.

“Only a few ever do what you have done: to greet us as a Person greets a Person, with respect and expecting the same in return. This is a good sign. I am glad we meet. Now let us discuss the matters that concern us both. I regret I offer no food or drink or even much time, but battlefields are not good places for talking.”

No, indeed. But Hugh said aloud. “I agree, Hyarima. I am told you have asked the Dutch that, henceforth, you and I shall sit to discuss and arrange the affairs between our peoples.”

“This is so. You are a man who understands my role here.”

Hugh heard strong emphasis on the last part of Hyarima’s reply. “Hyarima, what do you mean by your ‘role here’? And why would I understand it more than other men?”

Hyarima swept his arm at the war-poised tableau behind him. “I fight the Spanish to retake my homeland. This land was Nepoia land before the Spanish came and took it for themselves and their Arawak allies. You, the Dutch tell me, know how this feels. You would be a great cacique in your homeland, but you may not return there. Enemies keep that land by helping rival clans against your own, much as the Spanish have held my homeland. Your enemies, like mine, are given better weapons, and your people — again, like mine — became work-slaves.”

Hyarima looked around the valley. “Seven years ago, I was a slave in these fields, before escaping and returning to my people near the place you call Punta de Galera. And I swore our land would be ours again.” His eyes came to rest on Hugh’s. “And I see in your eyes, and in his” — he gestured at O’Rourke — “that you know this feeling. I think, maybe, the Dutch knew this feeling once, but now, their words and eyes are always filled with gold and silver. And having once been slaves to the Spanish has not made them refuse to keep slaves of their own. But I think it may be different with you.”

Hugh nodded. “I know what it is like to lose one’s country. Completely, and for a very long time.”

Hyarima nodded and his eyes became shiny. “When the Spanish settled, in my grandfather’s time, there were forty thousands of us on this island. Now, there are but four thousands. If we would survive as a people, and on the land of our grandmothers and grandfathers, we must free ourselves now.”

Hugh looked over Hyarima’s shoulder at the ramshackle roofscape of San José de Oruña. “And yet you show great restraint in doing so.”

Hyarima’s shrug was so slight as to be almost imperceptible. “With the new guns and powder and shot just brought by the Dutchmen, we have been able to defeat many of the Arawak. For many months, we could not fight them well; we had little powder left. They became lazy. So with the new powder, we attacked all at once and without stopping. They were defeated more by their surprise than by us.

“They have abandoned most of the villages they took in my father’s time and abandoned the Spanish as well. There are so few of the Spanish and their mixed offspring, that we need not be hasty in finishing our war. Instead, it seemed wise to meet you first.”

“Meet me — us?”

“Yes, O’Donnell. We are told that you, or your allies, may wish to live on our island. As friends, who will not grow beyond the limits we grant. There, you will wish to live in your own ways. We understand this. You will want farms such as the Spanish have, buildings such as the Spanish have, wells such as the Spanish have. Once we have killed their owners, we would make a gift of these to you and your people, if you wish them.”

The cacique’s calm eyes promised genocide as if it were a trifling gift, a small token of respect between friends. Hugh shook his head. “Hyarima, I do not ask or hope you to stain your hands with their blood, just so you may give their buildings to us.”

Hyarima shrugged. “That is not why we are killing them. We must eliminate our enemies, but their farms and buildings are of no use to us. I reasoned your people might feel otherwise.”

Great God, how do I explain the need for mercy and not sound like I am taking the side of the Spanish against the Nepoias? “If any man, if any people, may claim the right of vengeance, none has better claim than Hyarima and the Nepoia. But I must ask: is there no way to show mercy to those who help end the war by surrendering? I might be able to convince –“

Hyarima was shaking his head. “The blood-debt is too great, O’Donnell. Perhaps it would not be, if the Spanish did not follow a god who speaks of mercy while encouraging murder.”

Hugh blinked in surprise. “I do not understand.”

“Can you not?” Hyarima’s face lost much of its expression. “The Spanish god instructs the Spanish priests to promise mercy and kindness, but does not punish the Spanish soldiers who enslaved and killed my people while wearing the god’s cross-symbol around their necks. They even called upon this god to help them as they slaughtered us in our villages. Not just our warriors, but our women and our children.” Hyarima’s eyes were unblinking and hard. “We have remained peaceful too often, spared the lives of murderers, because of the fine-sounding lies of this god’s teachings. No more.”

Hugh saw the still-intact town of San José de Oruña over Hyarima’s shoulder, felt fresh sweat break along his brow. If I can’t think of a different appeal in the next minute, all those townspeople are as good as dead. O’Donnell played the last card he held: an appeal to honor. “I understand. The blood of one’s own slain innocents calls loudly to any cacique. It shall to me, also, which is why we may not then live in the places you offer to me.”

Now it was Hyarima who blinked. “Why should our deeds compel you to reject their houses and fields? Today’s blood is not upon your hands, O’Donnell.”