1637 No Peace Beyond The Line – Snippet 32

Hugh shook his head. “But I cannot stand to gain by that blood, either, Hyarima. How may I invite my people to live in this place, knowing the houses in which they dwell, the fields in which they work, were made ready for them by being washed with the blood of women and children? It may not have been my hand that did the work, but I cannot knowingly gain from your vengeance without becoming party to it.”

Hyarima frowned, but Hugh had the distinct impression it was not prompted by his rejection of the cacique’s ‘gift’, but at the honor-conundrum behind the rejection. “I understand your words and your concerns, O’Donnell. And they move me. But even if I was to stay my hand against the innocents of these places, one day, the sons of the slain fathers would come for my blood to answer their loss. Or, what is worse, would come for the blood of my sons and grandsons. And daughters and grand-daughters, since the Spanish make war upon everyone.”

Hugh shrugged. “They would not know so well who slew their fathers if they grew up in a different land.”

Hyarima’s frown faded. His eyes narrowed. “What do you propose, O’Donnell?”

“The women and children of the Spanish could be moved.” Tromp will want to put my head in a noose when he hears what I’ve promised. And Cantrell might want to help him. O’Donnell affected a casual shrug as he felt O’Rourke growing rigid beside him. “The Spanish came by boat. Those you spare could leave by boat.”

Hyarima’s eyes remained narrow. “You are a cacique, O’Donnell. But I was told that the boats are not yours to command. Did the Dutchmen lie to me?”

Hugh shook his head. “They did not lie. But I have many fine soldiers. The Dutch will need those men alongside them, to fight the Spanish, before this year is past.” He paused. “The Dutch will grant me this boon.”

Hyarima’s eyes opened slightly. “You would indebt yourself for the Spanish? I have heard whispers, though I cannot be sure of their truth, that the Spanish have lied to you as well, have used you and your men poorly in many wars.”

Hugh shrugged. “Those words are true. But we were not used poorly by their women and children, Hyarima. So I would not make those innocents pay for the misdeeds of men who should have kept their word.”

Hyarima’s eyes opened wider. Then he nodded. “So be it. The Spanish women and children shall not be killed or harmed. They shall be removed, according to your word. But if your allies will not cooperate as you assure me –” The unfinished statement was terribly eloquent.

Hugh nodded. “I understand that you cannot allow the Spanish to stay on your land. The danger, and the insult to your dead, are both too great.”

“It is well you understand this, and it promises a good friendship between us.”

“Hyarima, our friendship is so important that I would suggest a further means of ensuring its health.” The Nepoia cacique’s nod invited explication. “I propose that if I or my allies are attacked solely by other men from beyond the sea, that we shall not seek your aid against them. Similarly, if you are attacked solely by the other caciques and tribes of these lands, we shall not become involved.”

Hyarima frowned. “This is a strange alliance, O’Donnell.”

Hugh smiled ruefully. “It might seem so, but my homeland is also an island of tightly interwoven families and clans. And so I have learned this: never become involved in the family feuds of your neighbors. Too often the stories tell us of how a much-loved visitor interceded in another family’s feud, and slew one of their distant relatives to save them from harm. But in the years that follow, that family’s gratitude too often becomes rotten with regret and secret resentment.” Hugh shrugged. “The host may have thanked the guest for slaying the dangerous relative on the day he was saved, but might, unreasonably, hate the guest a year later for the very same act. I perceive the people of these lands are akin to one great family. So are we from over the sea. And family feuds must remain within the families they pertain to, for this reason.”

Hyarima nodded, and although he did not smile, he looked pleased, both with the agreement and Hugh. “You are wise for your years, O’Donnell. Your people are lucky to have such a cacique.”

Hugh was preparing to wave off the compliment when O’Rourke interrupted. “We are. Our Lord O’Donnell is too modest to claim it.”

“Of course,” Hyarima answered calmly. “That is why he has you to say it for him. This talk has been good. Next time, we shall have time for food and smoke.” He stood, nodded, and left.

After which O’Rourke rounded on his earl. “Damn it, Hugh: you were set to shrug off your title again, if I hadn’t jumped in. Whatever happened to the cocky little rascal you started out?”

“What happened, O’Rourke, was that I grew not only in size but in sense. Which included an accurate measure of my small place in the world, I might add.”

“Well, perhaps it is time to re-measure that place, my earl. Besides, the sin o’ pride notwithstanding, too much humility is just not how things are done here. And you’re the one who was always reminding me, ‘when in Rome, do like the Romans.’ Or don’t you think these fellows are the local Romans?”

Hugh looked into the slight parting of fronds that marked where Hyarima had disappeared into the green wall that skirted the base of the steep northern slopes. “Oh no, O’Rourke. They’re the Romans all right, no doubt about it. We exist here at their pleasure. And I hope it shall ever be thus.”

The two men were silent as their guide returned and led them back to their horses. Behind, muskets began to sputter fitfully from atop the rude palisade around San José de Oruña.

O’Rourke cocked an ear in that direction. “You took quite a chance back there, m’Lord. Regarding the fate of the Spanish, that is.”

Hugh mounted the gelding in one fluid, annoyed motion. “Yes, for all the good it did.”

“Seemed to have done a world of good for the women and children of this blasted island. And as for their men — well, I can’t wonder but that they haven’t richly earned what’s about to befall ’em. ‘Eye for an eye,’ as the saying has it.”

“‘Let he amongst you who is without sin cast the first stone,'” Hugh retorted bitterly. “I won’t be consoling myself over the rightness of a massacre, O’Rourke. Even if it’s restricted to males old enough to at least have some fuzz on their chin.”

“Aye, but it’s not as though you’ve much cause for remorse either. Let alone time in which to feel it. We’re to be under way for St. Eustatia as soon as we can.”

 Hugh grimaced. “Where, I suspect, Tromp will rake me over the coals for promising to evacuate almost two hundred civilians from Port-of-Spain and San José de Oruña. And Cantrell might help him singe my toes.”

“Ah, well, I’m not so sure of that,” temporized O’Rourke. “Tromp is a pretty decent sort of fellow. Decent for a heathen Dutchman, that is.” O’Rourke grinned. “And Cantrell — well, if memory serves, m’Lord, it was you who remarked that most of the up-timers feel a great regret over what their ancestors did to the natives of the New World. I’d think that your making a pact with the Nepoia that saved lives, rather than took ’em, might be pleasing to our young up-time friend.”

Hugh shrugged. “It would be a blessing if you’re right, O’Rourke.” O’Donnell spurred his horse lightly. “Let’s make sure we’re aboard to catch the evening breeze,” he urged.

And let’s get out of here before the massacre begins.