Council Of Fire – Snippet 06
One word over and over.
Lands of the Six Nations
The night of the Change had been still and cold, with no hint of the coming spring. But still, there had been something so odd that no one, not even the oldest among those at Canajoharie, could remember anything like it. A wind swept across the settlement, bringing with it a strange fog that seemed to contain dancing lights–it came and went in less time than it took the moon to climb from between the tall trees to above them. The next day the shamans and many of the women reported evil dreams–of lands rising from the water, and the scourging of the people by ancient, terrible creatures . . . but the sun still rose in its usual place and people went about their usual tasks.
Brant and his stepson sat on two tree stumps, watching the white stranger converse with another warrior. The white man seemed nervous, looking around as he talked.
“What do you make of that?”
“He’s a soldier,” Joseph said. “He stands straight and has his hands ready.”
“I wonder if Tiyanoga knows that.”
“He went with the war-band last year. He would see the same things I do.”
Brant stretched and yawned. The stranger noticed the movement, his eyes darting toward the two natives sitting on the stumps. But he did not otherwise react.
“He’s not dressed as a soldier, but rather as a trader. I wonder why.”
“No single soldier would come into the Mohawk lands,” Joseph said. “Neither British nor French trust us . . . not to be savages.”
His stepfather laughed at that, and again the stranger’s glance went to them.
“Let’s see what this trader has to say for himself,” Brant said, standing. His stepson joined him, and they walked to where the conversation was taking place.
The white man turned his attention completely to the newcomers. He looked around and noticed that there were several others nearby, watching the exchange.
“I think I would best be on my way,” he said in English–but it bore an accent that suggested that it was not his native tongue.
“I think our Tekarihoga would like to sit with you, Brother,” Brant said. “So you will remain with us for a while.”
The man looked up at the sun, well into the afternoon. “I have far to go before dark–”
Brant laughed. “A trader who does not wish to trade? No, you will stay.” He gestured at the little crowd that had gathered. “Too many to fight, and you cannot run fast enough–my son has the feet of a deer and will catch you. You will make the right choice to sit and smoke a pipe with us, won’t you?”
“I am a Scottish trader from Albany,” the man said, sitting cross-legged in the house of the Tekarihoga, the chief sachem of the Canajoharie. A small group of other warriors, including Brant and Joseph, sat in a circle, listening carefully.
The sachem took a long pull on his pipe and handed it to the white man. “You are not a clever liar, Brother.”
The man held the pipe for a moment before drawing on it, then letting the smoke escape his mouth. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“You are neither trader nor Scottish man. You are French, and a soldier.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because my eyes and ears are open. Why are you here, French soldier? This is far south for one such as you to come, and no trader moves on without trying to do business. Yours is a poor disguise.
“Tell me the news. We may have traveled the warpath with the British last summer, but their war-bands had strong arms and legs but a weak head. We watched them die, and then we went home to wipe away the tears of those families who had to mourn their own dead. So we mean one Frenchman no harm, even for sport.”
The man who called himself George–or Georges–took a few moments to consider, then spoke. “I was a soldier at the place you call Ticonderoga, in the fort we named Carillon.”
“War-bands of our people were there. Go on.”
“Some days past there was a strange cloud, like a shining fog. It passed over the fort and down into the valley, and soon after . . . things began to happen.”
“What sorts of things?”
“We began to hear music. The bagpipe mostly: that strange instrument the Scotsmen–”
“The real Scotsmen,” Brant said, and the Mohawks laughed, as the white man reddened slightly.
“The one the Scotsmen play as they march,” Georges continued as the laughter subsided. “Even though there were no enemy soldiers in the valley we could hear the bagpipes play. And then we began to see them: spectres or shades, rising from the mist; ghosts of those Scotsmen who had charged the abatis last summer. Even in daylight we could make them out. Some of them had huge gaping wounds from bayonets or musket balls–some had no heads, some had heads but no faces . . .”
His voice trailed off, and the horror was obvious in his face.
“I thought the white men did not believe in ghosts,” the Tekarihoga said. “Does your Christian book not say that everyone goes either to the Plentiful Country, or into some pot of boiling fire to be cooked forever for the pleasure of the Great God? There is no place for ghosts.”
“I know what I saw, honored one,” the white man said. “They are still there. You can look for yourself.”
The Tekarihoga nodded. “We will, we will. So you ran away from the ghosts?”
“. . . Yes. We all did.”
“What do you mean, you all did? Are there no more servants of the Onontio at Ticonderoga then?”
“No. It is abandoned. No one can stand the sights or the sounds–the bagpipes, and the ghosts of the Scotsmen repeating one word, over and over.”
“And that one word?”
A party of Mohawk warriors–the sachem Karaghiagdatie and two young warriors, Tiyanoga and Joseph–traveled by canoe and by foot for three days to reach the French fort. It would have taken a white man far longer, but they did not know the woods and roads like the natives. As they moved toward the sunrise, there was a feeling of dread on the ground and in the air that made them shiver. Of the three, Joseph was the most sensitive: he was a born tracker, who as much felt as saw the signs on the trail, and the closer they came to the French fort the more it affected him.
When they reached the lake, they could see no smoke rising from the chimneys of the fort. It seemed that the French trader who had come to Canajoharie was not the only one who had abandoned Carillon . . .
And when they pulled their canoes onto the shore, they could see the ghosts by the hundreds milling around the base of the hill.