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

14 September 2013 Comments Leave a comment

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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2 Comments to “The Rise of the Iroquois, part I – In the lands of the Crooked Tongues”

  1. This is a good one, Zoe! I wonder, sometimes, about your former lives…!

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