Yearly Archives: 2013

The Rise of the Iroquois, Part II – across the Great Sparkling Water

3 November 2013 Comments (0)

It might be that somewhere around 1141 the man who would be known to us today as the Great Peacemaker crossed Lake Ontario, arriving at the lands of the Onondaga People.

On the southern side of the Great Lake he had been greeted by a hunter of one Onondaga settlement, who happened to pass by. The Peacemaker must have been surprised, not pleasantly so. After a long day of strenuous rowing, he was most likely counting on some solitude, an opportunity to rest and prepare his plans. Yet, he did not lose his presence of mind. His mission, indeed, was of the divine nature.

Among the Onondagas not all was well. Two of the most prominent leaders of this nation could not agree with each other – Hiawatha and Tadodaho, two bitter enemies, uncompromising in their struggle for domination, although Tadodaho, being a powerful if an evil sorcerer, had recently gained the upper hand by killing the entire family of his rival and driving the man into a self-imposed exile.

Some of that the hunter had probably related to the visitor from the other side of the Great Lake. Haltingly and not sure of himself, the man informed the stranger of the struggle and the troubles, while eyeing the newcomer with a certain amount of awe as the canoe of the man seemed to be made out of white stone. The first miracle.

But the conversation was difficult, with the two man speaking related but different languages, barely understanding each other, so in the end, according to the legend, the Peacemaker told the hunter to go home and tell the people of his town about the Good Tidings of Peace. While he himself went off, to visit this same Hiawatha.

On his way he happened upon the lonely dwelling of Jikonsahseh, an old woman who was feeding the warriors, no matter what nation they belonged to. This one turned to be easy to convert to his case.

Yet, Hiawatha was proving more difficult. A weathered warrior and leader, deranged with grief at the loss of his family – his beloved wife and three cherished daughters – he wasn’t prepared to listen too readily.

The Condolence Ceremony that was born out of this encounter served the Five Nations Confederacy proceedings for many centuries to come. “Wipe away the tears, cleanse your throat so you may speak and hear, restore the heart to its right place, and remove the clouds blocking the sun in the sky.” Apparently, the Peacemaker had found the right words to say in order to ease the pain of the grieving man.

Having secured the help of the Onondaga leader, the Peacemaker proceeded into the lands of the Flint People (Mohawks), where he has been required to prove the divine natures of his mission by climbing a tree for it to be cut, falling straight away into the worst of the waterfalls. If on the next morning he was to return, he would be listened to, had promised the local leaders.

And so it was.

The Crooked Tongues man had climbed the tree, which was chopped promptly, to disappear into the roaring mists. Fascinated and saddened, the people watched for some time, then went back to the town with their hearts heavy. They too had craved the changes, and the death of the courageous man robbed them off this sparkle of hope.

Yet, the smoke climbing from behind the nearest field on the next morning told them that the foreigner was not gone. As instructed, he had come back, to be listened to this time. Like he had been promised. After such miraculous survival, how could they not to?

An excerpt from “Across the Great Sparkling Water”, The Peacemaker Trilogy, book #2.

Kahontsi was the first to see the tree coming down.

The thundering of the falls above their heads did not let them hear a thing, but she saw the shadow flying across the spraying mist, saw the dark silhouette cutting the air.

“It’s coming down,” she screamed, but the boys needed none of her precautions, paddling vigorously, to avoid the crushing touch should the tree make it all the way toward their relatively calm hideaway.

“It’s not coming our way,” called Tsitsho, ceasing to paddle, but just stroking the water now, making sure their canoe did not sweep into the second rapids.

Relieved, they watched the old tree hitting a rock, jerking aside, changing direction, bouncing against other protruding obstacles. Then the realization dawned.

“The foreigner,” she gasped. “He fell into the falls!”

Frowning, Anowara shouted to his friend and began paddling more vigorously again.

“We’ll get as close as we can, and see.”

However, the spitting torrents revealed nothing but more of their usual white foam and some split branches, carried into their pool now.

“Oh, Great Spirits,” whispered Kahontsi, her chest squeezing with fright. “Please don’t let this man die, please keep him safe, please.”

She should have offered a gift to the spirits, she knew. Or maybe a really decent prayer, accompanied with tobacco offering on the night before, or when the dawn just broke. Hastily muttered words when it was already too late were of no help. They would only serve to offend the Spirits.

“Look there!” Tsitsho’s scream tore her from her reverie, making her gaze leap.

“Where? What?” Anowara was asking.

“There, by that rock, behind the second waterfall.”

She shielded her eyes against the splashing sprays, leaping to her feet, making their canoe nearly tip. The both youths glared at her direfully, but she didn’t care, her eyes searching the sleek rocks and the swirling water around them. The second waterfall? By the large rock?

“Get the boat as near as you can, and we’ll take a look,” shouted Anowara, assuming control. “Kahontsi, for all spirits sake, sit down already!”

But she ignored what he said, as her eyes caught the movement – a head coming up, struggling against the current, to be pulled back again.

“There, there, I saw him,” she screamed, then realized that they were paddling in that direction already, with Anowara leaning forward, scanning the water, ready to dive.

Dragged into a court? Bring a friend to witness for you

22 October 2013 Comments (0)

While living in Tenochtitlan or any other important altepetl of the 15th century Mesoamerica, you should be careful to break no law. Whether selling your goods on the marketplace, pursuing your career as an engineer or an artisan, working the land or aspiring to a higher position of a military career, you would have to be aware of the rules, treating the law-enforcing institution with respect.

The Mexican Valley of the 15th century was run by a very strict legal system that made sure everyone knew the laws and was able to follow them with not too much trouble. The maintenance of social order and a respect for the government institutions, being those of jurisdiction or educational nature, was of paramount importance, jealously guarded.

As a simple citizen having a dispute with you neighbor, you would first apply to the local court, which was set in every town, usually on the marketplace or the plaza, or in each calpulli, a district, of a large city.

Such court would deal with minor civil and criminal offenses, with its judge being elected from among the ranks of the district’s respected citizens. Veteran warriors of course were a preferable choice, trusted to be people of “sound mind and proper upbringing”. Such elected judge would have a group of assistants at his disposal, acting as a local police force, summoning or arresting the suspected criminals. His verdict would be presented to the higher authorities, having no executive power to deliver the sentence.

If the offence was too serious to be dealt with by the local court, the case would be forwarded to the higher level of jurisdiction called tecalli. Those courts were held permanently in session in each capital, such as Tenochtitlan, Texcoco or Tlacopan. Stuffed by a president and two or three professionally trained judges, those courts would deliver a final sentence in the cases of civil disputes.

Yet, if a convicted criminal felt he had been judged wrongly, he could still appeal to the Supreme Justice Court convened in the capital and conducted by Cihuacoatl, the equivalent of the position of a prime minister, or even, sometimes, by tlatoani, the ruler, himself.

So, whether commoner or noble, if your case was still unresolved and if you had the necessary clout and means, you would travel to Tenochtitlan, to wait for the Supreme Court to be convened, something that was supposed to happen every 12 days, stuffed with 12 judges and presided by the Cihuacoatl or the Emperor himself. Its verdict was final and could not be tampered with. Sentenced by the highest authority, your fate was sealed.

There were quite a few courts acting outside the system, legally so. Commercial courts were run by the traders’ guild, dealing with every offense related to marketplace and the commerce in general, having every authority to judge and execute the criminals or offenders.

Tlacxitlan, military courts, stuffed by three or four professional judges, dealt with military problems. Those were mobile and could be conducted right after a battle no matter how far from the capital the warriors’ forces were.

Religious courts dealt with priests and temples, and sometimes a special tribunal was held in the palace of the emperor to deal with the crimes committed by high dignitaries.

The judges would usually be selected from among the nobility, approved by the emperor himself. An extensive training in calmecac – school for nobles, warriors, judges and priests – would be required, followed by a long apprenticeship of sitting beside the actual judge and learning the trade. The exception were the lower local courts, who were not appointed by the highest authorities, but, as stated above, selected from among the neighborhoods’ respectable citizens.

The judges’ salary came from the state, from the proceeds of the lands set aside especially for this purpose. Judges were expected to deliver impartial verdicts and sentences, regardless of the parties’ social status. A judge was not allowed to accept gifts in any form and was bound by strong rules of ethics, a violation of which could result in a number of penalties. But the Mesoamerican judiciary was a self-policing institution.

So if you were dragged to the court by your enraged neighbor claiming that you encroached on his property, or had stolen his goods, the charges would be filled, and you would stand before the judge’s dais, allowed to confront your accuser. The lawyers were not allowed, but you could bring a friend to help you to plead your case. The witnesses would then be questioned, along with the suing parties. Both would be required to swear to tell the truth in the name of Huitzilopochtli and they would do so “by touching the ground and then their lips”, after which the judges would proceed with cross-examination, putting their skill and accumulated experience to extract the truth. Testimony, evidence, confessions and all sort of documentation was admitted, and the laying witness would be punished with the same severity as the sued party if found guilty.

So if your neighbor, indeed, dragged you into a court, I sincerely hope you and your friends had managed to plead your case well, avoiding the conviction.

An excerpt from “Currents of War

The large eyes rested on Iztac, their expression light.

“So the Emperor just needs to encourage the people some more.” A shrug. “And yet, he spends his time judging in Imperial Court. Why would he try people during war time? Let alone warriors.”

“Well, there are matters the judges of the districts cannot deal with,” began Iztac, finding it difficult to follow the constantly changing conversation. From her involvement in the imperial matters, to Tlacaelel, to Tenochtitlan’s readiness for war, to the imperial courts, what was this woman trying to say? “The imperial court has to be convened from time to time.”

“But in war time?” The woman shook her head. “Why try warriors, let alone leaders of warriors, when Tenochtitlan is about to be invaded?”

“Well, I suppose, if the warriors committed some offense against the royal house…” And then it dawned on her, and she caught her breath, staring at the woman, unable to think. “Is there… a trial? This morning?”

“Yes, there is a trial this morning.” Something lurked in the depths of the woman’s eyes, and the gaze resting on Iztac grew piercing before turning back into its typical, derisively amused lightness. “A minor leader of the warriors, mind you. Not anyone of importance.

The man must be guilty of a serious crime against the royal house, to justify the convention of the Imperial Court at such difficult times.”

She tried to get a grip of her senses, then felt the cup slipping from her fingers. It fell with a bang, rolling over the floor, splashing the last of the chocolate. They both watched it come to a stop, fascinated.

“When? When is the trial?” She was hardly able to recognize her own voice, so strangled, unnaturally high it sounded.

The woman watched her, frowning, her smile gone. “This morning,” she said finally, her face softening, filling with compassion. “Maybe now.”

Now? In these very moments?

“I… I don’t understand. How? Why was I not told?”

But, of course. Of course, she hadn’t been told!

“I’m sorry,” she heard the woman saying, and it helped her a little, forced her to concentrate on something tangible. She needed to get rid of this woman first.

“I… I’m sorry. What were you saying?” She stared at the beautiful face, seeing none of the previous arrogance but only a genuine concern.

“We can ride in my palanquin if you want to. It’s spacious, and my bearers know their trade. We won’t be tossed more than necessary.”

Iztac blinked, painfully aware that she still had not been able to understand this woman, not fully. “To ride in your palanquin? Where?”

“To see the trial, of course. Where else?”

“But I need to see Chimal first. I need to talk to him. I have to…” She bit her lips until it hurt. Why was she saying this aloud? “Please, I need to do things. I’m sorry. I will be honored if you visit me again…” Her voice trailed off under the mirthless smile of her visitor.

“The Emperor must already be on the Plaza. It’s nearing midmorning. But you will be able to talk to him after that. Maybe you could join him on his tour around the city. The people of Tenochtitlan will be delighted to see their beautiful Empress as cheerful and as unafraid as their ruler. While riding with him, you may have a chance to talk to him about this warrior, to make him postpone any degree of punishment he may have decided upon.” The woman hesitated. “I’m sorry I came so late. I wish I had been able to warn you in time.”

Iztac just stared. Somehow she was on her feet now, but she didn’t remember herself getting up. “Why do you do this? How does any of this concern you?”

Historical Fiction and the Five Nations

23 September 2013 Comments (0)

I am happy to announce the release of another new book

The Great Law of Peace

Having proven the divine nature of his mission to the People of the Flint (Mohawks), the Great Peacemaker began working for real.

Backed by this powerful nation and their goodwill, he had approached their immediate neighbors, The People of the Standing Stone (Oneida), who had proven relatively easy to convince. The message of the Good Tidings of Peace fell on attentive ears, although it must have taken a few gatherings and more than a few arguments to make two enemy nations sit beside the same fire.

“They deliberated for three days, with the foreigner doing most of the talking,” went on the older warrior, scratching the sides of his bowl with the spoon in an attempt to fish out the last of the juicy pieces. “And they are still there, waiting for the representatives of the other towns to arrive.”

“Can’t they conduct their own people’s meeting without the Messenger holding their hands?” asked Jikonsahseh, raising her eyebrows high.

The men shrugged in unison.

The People of the Great Swamp (Cayuga) joined the proposed union of the nations eagerly, but their neighbors to the west, the fierce warlike People of the Mountains (Seneca) remained suspicious. They were divided anyway, following two different leaders, with Genesee River being a natural boundary. Yet, what united both disagreeing leaders was their mutual dislike of foreigners trying to pry into their people’s affairs. To speak to the enemies of yesterday? Oh please!

But the Peacemaker was not about to go away. Or to take a ‘no’ for an answer. Accompanied by the leaders of the three other nations, he sailed into the lands of the stubborn Seneca, to talk and to persuade, by another miracle if necessary.

The meeting might have not been very well going, as at some point the Peacemaker was reported to make “the sun disappear from the sky” . Indeed, in August 1142, around the possible site of this meeting (Ganondagan, near modern-day Victor, NY) a full solar eclipse have occurred according to the list displayed on NASA Eclipse Website. There were, of course, more eclipses recorded above this area – a century earlier, and a few centuries later too – but those were either not full or occurring at the wrong time of the year or a day.

This or that way, after witnessing such a terrible prove of the divine displeasure, Seneca People joined promptly, with no more arguments or debates.

The sun was a pitifully thin crescent, like Grandmother Moon on certain days. Oh, Mighty Spirits! Tekeni watched the strips of light, darting across the ground, alternating with patches of black, both moving fast, like attacking predators. It was as though the light and the darkness were fighting each other. The epic battle of the Celestial Twins?

He felt his heart fluttering, the stony fist gripping his stomach, squeezing with all its might. But for the presence of Two Rivers, he would turn around and run into the woods, to crawl somewhere quiet and maybe vomit in fear. The world was ending in front of his eyes, and he was not ready for this. It was one thing to risk his life, facing the death, fighting or sailing, or hunting a bear, but another to watch the world dying, collapsing on its own, with the Father Sun being devoured by a feral beast.”

With the backing of four powerful nations, the Peacemaker could turn to the last of the reluctant, the Onondagas. In the lands of the People of the Hills (Onondaga) all was not well. Tadodaho, the man responsible for Hiawatha’s family’s death, was still strong, still influential, still adamant in his refusal to listen to the message of the Great Peace. He was reported to be a powerful sorcerer, with twisted limbs and snakes for a hair.

The Peacemaker and Hiawatha went to see him alone.

According to many versions of the legend it was a long tedious meeting. The old sorcerer refused to listen. Snakes twisted in his hair, and his ears were closed to reason. The Father Sun climbed its usual path and was about to descend to its resting place and still the Peacemaker talked, refusing to give up.

In the end the old sorcerer was convinced. He allowed the Peacemaker to comb the snakes out of his hair, his twisted limbs straightened and he joined the Great Peace.

Judging by the Peacemaker’s wonderfully detailed, well-recorded constitution, it might not have been that simple. Onondaga People had definitely received a special place. The meetings of the Five Nations were to be always held in Onondaga lands, making its inhabitants into the Keepers of the Central Fire. In the Great Council these people were represented considerably more heavily than any other nation (14 Onondaga representatives as opposed to 9 of the Mohawks, 9 of the Oneida, 10 of Cayuga and 8 of Seneca).

Tadodaho was to preside over the meetings, having a position of an arbiter, and a power of veto. Not that the power of veto gave the Onondagas any clear advantage, as the voting was required to be always unanimous, thus granting every member of the council power to veto any decision.

Still, these positions of honor and additional power may have be the ones to tip the scales on that famous snakes-combing meeting. The Peacemaker was a great man with grand vision and a brilliant thinking. He might have thought of those concessions to lure the man he needed to join on his free will. In the end there was no inequality in the Great League’s procedures, honorific titles or not.

An excerpt from “The Great Law of Peace”, The Peacemaker Series, book #3.

He pushed the troublesome thoughts aside, concentrating on the elated mood of this town, talking to them and letting them talk. Hionhwatha had done a splendid work, he decided. He had clearly spent no time in idleness and gloom. These people wanted to join, with no special concessions even, but the real challenge was still ahead of him.

“Tadodaho is holding his town and the settlements surrounding Onondaga Lake in his firm grip. He is fiercer than ever, and by now, quite eager to meet you, to pit his strength against yours. He doesn’t fear me more than he should, so my life is in no danger. But yours is.”

“Then we shall give him his meeting.” Replete with food, Two Rivers sought out his pipe, always within an easy reach. He was relying on its calming effect too readily these days, he reflected, crushing the dry tobacco leaves, not paying attention to the familiar process. Of an old he had not been smoking his pipe at every opportunity.“Join us, and we will sail to Onondaga Town in a real strength, with our intentions peaceful but our spirits strong, unwavering, ready to face any challenge.” He forced a grin, missing Tekeni’s presence. For a change, the young man had chosen to stay on the shore, reinforcing the warriors who remained behind in order to guard their canoes. As though there was a need to guard their vessels, camping in such a friendly place.

“Maybe,” said the old leader thoughtfully. “Maybe we’ll do just that.” His grin spread, along with a slightly mischievous sparkle. “And to think that when we separated on the shores of Onondaga Lake you were no more than a strangely spoken foreigner with a few outcasts for followers. But look at you now! Two seasons later, you come to me, followed by four united nations, speaking our tongue, more sure of yourself than ever. And more impatient.” The glimmer in the dark eyes deepened. “You will need every grain of your patience now. While dealing with Tadodaho, you will have to be firm and confident, as unwavering as always, but this sparkle of arrogance I see in you now will have to go. You cannot force my people into your union, four nations or not. You can only persuade them.”

“Can Tadodaho be persuaded?” Momentarily alone, as, out of respect, people moved away, letting the two leaders converse in private, Two Rivers eyed the older man, pleased with the changes. The haunted, violent look was gone, replaced by the dignified bearing, the slightly amused, know-it-all twinkle new to the broad, wrinkled face. The old bastard knew what Two Rivers wanted to know, and he was not about to volunteer the information without making the visitor ask.

“Maybe he can be persuaded. Who knows?” The wide shoulders lifted in a shrug. “He has been waiting for you to come. Not much had been done around Onondaga Lake to make it ready against your arrival. The old fox is clearly playing for time, curious, confident in his ability to deal with you, to put you in your place or get rid of you. Curious and expectant. Maybe he has more wisdom than we credit him with.” Another shrug. “He could have gotten rid of me, could have swayed High Springs to his side, but he did not. Why? Only his devious mind knows. I think he is eager to meet you.”

“Then we shall grant him his wish.” Uneasily, Two Rivers shifted, leaning against the warm tiles of the bark lining the wall of the longhouse. “Maybe when he sees the size of our delegation, it will make him pause.”

“It won’t. He knows his strengths and our weaknesses. He knows that we need to make it as peaceful as we can, resorting to no violence, as tempting as the option may be. But, of course, we shall sail in a day or two. We have not much choice, do we? And we do have the power now.”

Historical fiction and the other side of Lake Ontario

16 September 2013 Comments (3)

I am happy to announce the release of another new book

Across the Great Sparkling Water

So, the man from the lands of the Crooked Tongues stepped into his canoe and sailed away, leaving his town and his people behind, never to return.

The Great Sparkling Water (Lake Ontario) lay ahead, glimmering enigmatically, offering a new beginning. He sailed across it without hesitation, knowing the risk he was taking but willing to endanger his life in order to be listened to. The Tidings of Great Peace were more important; his message needed to be delivered.

His arrival did not go unnoticed, however. According to every version of the legend a man of Onondaga settlement, a hunter, was there, watching the approaching canoe, wide-eyed. It was reported to be made of white stone, a miracle that the observer beheld with a held breath.

In his turn the Crooked Tongues man, the future Great Peacemaker, might have been surprised, even startled. Whether sailing a stone canoe or a regular one, he must have hoped to be more prepared for this first encounter with his prospective followers. After a long day of incessant rowing – to cross the Lake Ontario was quite a feat for a lonely man – he must have been in a need to rest and wash and gather his senses.

Yet, he kept his presence of mind and addressed his first listener in a grand fashion, asking for the man’s reason to be there instead of explaining his own wandering of the foreign shores. Obviously taken aback the man claimed to hunt for a living, but also complaining of the “strife in his settlement”.

When asked who he was in his turn, the Peacemaker said: “It is I who came from the west and am going eastward and am called Dekanahwideh in this world.”

“The puzzlement upon the man’s face grew, as he brought his eyes back, to meet Two Rivers’ gaze. “My companions are back there, in the woods,” he said. Another heartbeat of hesitation, a nervous licking of lips. “Who are you?”

Grateful for Tekeni’s prompt translation, whispered hurriedly behind his back, Two Rivers let his gaze thaw a little. “It is I who came from the west and am going eastward and I am called Two Currents Flowing Together in this world.”

It came out well. The man seemed as though about to take a step back. With the translator at hand, he could really make his speech as flowery as he wanted to. It was a blessing. “You will now return to the place from whence you came. And I want you to tell your leaders that the Good Tidings of Peace has come. They shall hear from me soon.”

The man’s face lost its color. “Who are you?” he whispered, eyes wide.

Then he instructed the man to go home and tell everyone about the Good Tidings of Peace and about the arrival of its Messenger. Awed by the sight of the stone canoe, the man did as he was told, disappearing into the woods.

Next, the Great Peacemaker approached the old woman Jikonsahseh, who was living alone, feeding the warriors who happened to pass her dwelling. Reportedly, the wise woman made no difference between the warriors’ parties, greeting them all to her home, no matter what nation they belonged to or where their destination lay. In her small way she was probably emulating that peaceful existence and the brotherhood between the Five Nations that were yet to be born.

Did the arrival of the Peacemaker surprise her? Maybe. By all accounts of the story she was glad to greet him into her sanctuary, open to his words and ideas. He must have spent there some restful days, talking to her and maybe formulating his immediate plans. He had promised to make her the Mother of the Five Nations and, indeed, when the time came he rewarded her with this honorable title.

“So you are coming from the lands of the Crooked Tongues,” said the old woman, her face kind in the light of the small fire.

He nodded, hiding his grin. Tekeni had told him all about this nickname, referring to the peoples from his side of the Great Lake, all peoples. “Yes, I’m coming from the other side of the Great Sparkling Water,” he confirmed.

“I see.” The woman nodded, studying him. “The Messenger of the Good Tiding of Peace, eh?” Her eyes flickered, challenging. “A presumptuous mission. And a difficult one.”

He wished he could speak with no need to translate. “It’s time people stopped warring on each other. It does no good; neither to my people nor to yours. It’s time they talk.”

“Oh, it is definitely the time to talk.” The woman grinned lightly, her eyes sobering. “But will they be ready to listen? You would need to talk to many deaf ears, convince many closed minds. The hunger for blood is clouding their judgment, the hatred and the thirst for revenge is weighing upon their souls like a mighty mountain, impossible to move.”

Then he sought out legendary Hiawatha, who, according to some versions of the story, was greatly feared, a self-exile who had leftthe community after his family died as a result of sorcery his rival, Tadodaho, was not above to restore to. He was reported to be a violent man, who would eat human flesh upon an occasion. No one dared to come near his lonely dwelling.

According to other versions, Hiawatha had met the Peacemaker earlier through his life, was shown the error of his violent ways and so went back to his Onondaga community to bring the idea of Great Peace, but then evil Tadodaho had managed to spoil his efforts by killing his family.

This or that way, after staying at Jikonsahseh, the Peacemaker sought Hiawatha out and was able to help him change his heart and overcome his resentment and sorrow, enlisting his support and loyalty, instead.

“So what do you want? Why did you come here?”

“I came to talk.”

“No one comes here to talk. Tell me the real reason.”

He stood the intensity of the dark gaze. “That’s the reason. Others don’t see what I see.”

Something flickered in the depths of those eyes. “What do you see?”

“I see a man who needs change. I see whole peoples who need change. They don’t have courage to admit it. You do have courage. You tried to change things already.”

Oh, but for a chance to make a better speech! He suppressed the familiar frustration, aware of the effort it took him not to shift his gaze. The intensity behind his opponent’s eyes was nerve-wracking.

“You can offer me nothing.”

“How do you know before you hear?”

“What do you want?”

“I want you to help me stop the war.”

The eyes peering at him widened, then narrowed. The pressed lips began to twitch.

“You what?” The hoarse laughter erupted, rolling between the walls, making the man cough. Breathing heavily, he reached for the bowl, gulped the remnants of the water, then laughed again. “You talk strange. It must be the Crooked Tongues’ thing. I thought you said…” More laughter.

He waited patiently, watching the man, seeing the nervousness, the uncertainty. Oh, he wanted to hear more, he wanted to hear it all. The rudeness, the coarse toughness, the derisive laughter were just a show. Deep inside, this man was lonely and scared. He needed the change, he needed the direction.”

This deed being accomplished, the Peacemaker, then, went to the lands of the Mohawks (People of the Flint) where he was greeted civilly, but with a certain amount of doubt. Interviewed in a polite way, he was asked about the nature of his mission. However, even when promised that the hostile neighbors were already approached and willing to listen, the doubts of his hosts did not disperse.

Finally, one of the leaders proposed a test of power. The divine nature of his mission required a proof. Why won’t the Messenger of the Great Spirits climb the tree that stood upon the edge of a cliff facing roaring waterfalls? If the tree was to be cut down, falling into the worst of the rapids, and the messenger was to survive, then it would have proved beyond doubt that the Great Spirits wanted his message to be delivered. An impossible feat, but if he returned on the next morning, he would be listened to and followed. A promise he must have found difficult to resist.

And so it was done. The tree was chopped, to disappear into the swirling mist.

An excerpt from “Across the Great Sparkling Water”, The Peacemaker Series, book #2.

They were curious, but mainly by his bravery at coming here. They were not prepared to listen, not to a foreigner. But if he survived the fall into the cascading mass of furious water, they might. As though anyone can survive the dreadful falls, the wild torrents and the sharp rocks lining its bottom.

And yet, there was a quiet pool just a little way behind the first rapids, had whispered Tekeni when they lay on their mats beside the dying fire, waiting for the night to dissolve. Satisfactorily large and deep, it offered a chance of survival. With some preparation and a benevolence of the Great Spirits, the test of the falls might be overcome.

He remembered the youth’s eyes, peering at him through the smoke-filled darkness, anxious, their fear unconcealed. Careful to keep his voice low, Two Rivers questioned him all about it, and about the plan. A precarious, desperate solution, but they had no better one. The people of Little Falls were no fools.

“But they will not see through our ploy, if we will challenge them, will make this jump to seem even more impossible,” whispered the youth, his words gushing like the rapids themselves, anxious to be said. “There is nothing mysterious, or spectacular, about a simple jump. But if you demand to climb the tree for it to be cut and fall into the falls, well, this might give their storytellers a tale to retell through the long winter moons to come.”

“And the tree will help me to reach the pool somehow?” he asked, warmed by the youth’s open concern.

“Yes, it will. Anowara, this boy who used to be my friend, says it’s inclined just the right way to start falling into the direction we want.” Tekeni’s eyes glittered, their tension obvious. “So you will have to be careful to climb it from its eastern side, to add your weight and make it fall in a right way for sure.” He frowned. “I will check that tree first thing in the morning, of course. Just to make sure Anowara knows what he is talking about.”

“And then?”

“And then, well, it’ll fall as close to the pool as possible, and you better jump when it’s half way down, directing yourself into the deepest of the water.” His frown deepening, the youth shifted, leaning on his elbow, trying to keep still. “And Anowara and another boy will be there, in their canoe, ready to fish you out should you not make your way down there smoothly enough to just swim to the other side of the rocks.”

“And what will the town folk see? The divine messenger jumping aside half way down the road, to be fished out by a few youths?” He forced a grin. “I’m not sure it’ll be their idea of the miraculous survival.”

“They will see nothing. Midway through the jump it will be all swirling mist of drizzle and sprays. One can’t see the bottom of the falls from the cliff you will be jumping off of.”

He remembered his stomach twisting so violently, he was afraid he would vomit right there, in the compartment of his kind, open-minded host. Breathing deeply, he made the spasm subdue.

“It will work. I’m sure it will,” he said, but Tekeni’s sigh sounded anything but encouraging, so he smiled at the youth, doing his best to reassure him. “Our mission is in its early, beginning stage. There is much work to be done, and I will not leave you to do it all alone.”

The Rise of the Iroquois, part I – In the lands of the Crooked Tongues

14 September 2013 Comments (2)

The most recent studies place the formation of the Five Nations’ Great League, people whom we know today as Iroquois, at around 1142, basing their conclusion on the oral tradition, archaeological evidence, and specific events such as full solar eclipse that was most clearly mentioned to occur above a certain area on either August 1142, or somewhere around 1450.

At this time the lands of today’s upstate New-York and southeastern Canada were torn by ferocious warfare, with many nations fighting each other, relentless in the mutual hatred, swept in the ever-rising tide of revenge and retaliation. A murder has to be avenged by murder, an attacked by a counterattack. There was no safety anymore, and not even a resemblance of peace.

People lived in well fortified towns and villages, surrounded by a double-row of palisade fence and sometimes even protective ditches. To wander the woods, in order to seek privacy, make love or just meditate, was absolutely out of the question, with people venturing beyond the safety of their palisade only in large, well organized groups. Women in the fields were working carefully, allocating enough fellow workers to climb the high platforms erected for this purpose on either side of the field, to watch the surroundings, to sound the alarm should the enemy warriors be spotted. Men were hunting in large groups, ready to fight the enemy, not always to return.

Slowly but steadily the situation had worsened, with bad harvest being a more frequent occurrence than not, with famine threatening toward every coming winter, and the deceases spreading.

The Harvest Ceremony was nearing, usually one more happy celebration, but this time the amounts of the harvested corn were pitiful, creating a problem. Reasons and explanations kept mounting, as they did now in the beginning of every fall, plenty of reasonable excuses, but their mutual nature was difficult to overlook. It towered menacingly, indicating the farmers’ state of mind and even the lack of manpower. Women in the fields were busy keeping their watch, ready to sound alarm at the sight of approaching enemy, so the rest could make it safely behind the town’s fence. However, for every justified warning, there were quite a few false ones and those pointed at the disoriented state of the people’s minds. Nervousness and lack of confidence had been mounting for decades, reaching for all aspects of life, growing with every summer, steadily, if imperceptibly.

Every town struggled as best as it could, trying to work the land and to harvest the forest fruit, to dry enough meat and fish, to collect enough firewood for the winter to pass on comfortably; yet their main resources were still turned to warfare. To equip as many warriors’ parties was important because there were always neighboring nations and settlements that needed to be punished and made to learn a lesson, and the town’s defenses always needed to be strengthened, because the neighbors were expected to retaliated, never failing this particular expectation.

A vicious circle that kept ruining people’s lives. A vicious circle that needed to be stopped, somehow. There were probably enough people who saw that something was wrong, that something wasn’t working, but they either kept silent or simply weren’t listened to.

“The enemy grew too bold!” exclaimed the Wolf Clan’s man. “The People of the Hills grew too bold. They should be punished for their brazenness.”

Some heads nodded in agreement, while others just shrugged.

“To ensure our well being through the upcoming winter, we will have to send out as many hunting parties as we can organize,” said Atiron, taking the pipe in his turn. “The men will have to leave their clubs in favor of their bows and their fishing spears. We have close to two moons to do as much hunting and fishing as we can.” He let the smoke linger in his throat, enjoying the sensation. “The women will finish their winter preparation sooner than usual, due to the small amounts of corn to grind, and so they will be free to gather more of the forest fruit, and plenty of firewood.” Passing the pipe on, he sighed. “Our duty is to ensure the well being of this town, so the Frozen Moons will not prove as terrible as two winters before.”

They fell silent, remembering the terrible winter when the illness spread like a lethal storm, killing people in its wake, unmerciful, oblivious of the identity and the age of its victims. All due to the lack of food and firewood, Atiron knew. Not to the displeased spirits as many chose to believe.

The Great Peacemaker came from across the Lake Ontario. He belonged to none of the five powerful nations of the modern-day upstate New-York. His foreignness might have been one of his greatest advantages because as a person belonging to neither side, he could be expected to have a measure of objectivity when no one trusted the other. On this, the other, southern side, of the Great Lake his people were called Crooked Tongues, because they talked in a language that was difficult to understand, regarded generally as uncouth foreigners, also an enemy but not as bad as the local foe.

By crossing the Great Lake he gambled mightily, with his life and not only his status as a person who had left his own people for the sake of the unknown. In those times the death was quick to come upon a lonely man who could not even speak in a proper, not-crooked sort of a way.

So why did he do that? Was his own country folk proving too stubborn, refusing to listen?

It may have been the case. The Huron/Wyandot people on the northern side of Lake Ontario were in a somewhat similar situation. They were divided in four different nations, and they had probably warred against each other as zealously, as relentlessly, unforgiving of offenses, imaginary or real.

Maybe they didn’t trust a person of their own, having difficulties to see beyond the obvious strangeness of his ideas. Maybe they needed an outsider to come and tell them that.

But no outsider was heading their way, while one of their own seemed to be on his way out.

An excerpt from “Two Rivers”, The Peacemaker Trilogy, book #1.

To leave or not to leave? The question kept circling in his head, examining all the possible angles, arriving at a dead end, always. To stay was fruitless, to leave was insane. The town of his childhood offered nothing but frustration, boredom, emptiness. But so did any settlement of his people. His reputation would go with him wherever he went. They all knew about the prophecy and about the strangeness and unacceptability of his ideas.

To leave it all behind by crossing the Great Sparkling Water, on the other hand, was tempting but plain insane. He had nothing to seek among the enemies of his people, nothing to ask, nothing to offer. Nothing but a spectacular death that they would be sure to inflict upon him. That might give them an interesting diversion for a day, but he would gain nothing but a painful end. Even taking the boy along might not solve the problem. The promising youth was nothing but a child when he had left his people, with no influence and no weight. A son of a War Chief, admittedly, but still just a child. No one would probably remember him at all.

No. The attempt to cross the Great Lake was the worst idea of them all. And yet…

The scattered drops of rain sprinkled his face, waking him from his reverie. Time to go back, back to suspicious glances, hatred, and mistrust. He shrugged. The hatred was new, all the rest – not so much.

Hesitating upon the top of the trail, he watched the woods to his left, his instincts alerting him for no apparent reason. He scanned the open patch of the land, all the way to the clusters of trees that began not far away from his vantage point. As though unwilling to disappoint him, a figure sprang from behind them, progressing in a funny gait, seeming like running upon an uneven surface.

Puzzled, he watched her for another heartbeat, then rushed down the cliff, his heart beating fast. Something was amiss. Even from this distance, he could see that it was a woman and that she had been in some sort of a trouble, with her hair flowing wildly and her dress askew, but mostly because of the desperate way she ran. Were enemy warriors spotted in the proximity of their woods?

He hastened his step, but the girl must have been running really fast, as she was close by the time he reached the flat ground. Close enough to recognize her. The pretty Beaver Clan girl. His heart missed a beat.

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