Taken

Photo copyright K. S. Brooks.

In the evening she told me her name was Kahwihta. And when I asked how many in her basket, with what I figured was a universal kind of gesture, she held up two hands and shook all the fingers, then one hand with the thumb and first finger extended.

Tékeni iawén:re,” she said, which I guess meant a dozen.

“Well, now, that’s enough apples to make a fine pie,” I said. But I was sure flour and cinnamon were in short supply here near Ta-ra-jo-rees, the village of the Turtle Clan. I was camped on the south shore of their River Flowing Around the Mountain. We call it the Mohawk.

I’d been surveying there in the wilderness for three weeks. The geography was perfect for one supporting grazing and farming, which is what Mister Proctor, the land speculator, had sent me to assay.

Sir William Johnson, His Majesty’s agent among these people, had warned me off, lest I incur a deadly suspicion among his charges. I believe he was trying to keep this land for his own devices, since he has become almost one of the natives and keeps a Mohawk woman, who he calls his wife.

And if she looks anything like Kahwihta, I can understand why.

With what pieces of the language I’d learned, I said, “Konnòn:we’s,” which I think meant “I like you.” Since she dropped her head and giggled behind her hand, I surmised I must have said the right thing. So I reckoned I might as well try to be more like Johnson.

Kwah tokén:’en sén:ta’wh?” I said, which I believed meant to have a good sleep. I pointed at her and then to myself and then the soft fur robe on the floor of my tent.

Kahwihta giggled again and laid down, which surprised and encouraged me in a very fine manner. I was hoping the language of love was as universal as the poets say. I laid down next to her and pulled the robe over us. In the light from my campfire through the canvas, her skin glowed like polished bronze. 

Kahwihta turned toward me and repeated, “Kwah tokén:’en sén:ta’wh.” After that, I remember nothing of the night.

Next I know, I am waking, waking with this vicious pain behind my head, lying there in the open beneath the trees. My tent is gone, as well as my gun, powder and lead, surveying instruments, maps, ledgers, drawing tools, everything. Well, not quite everything.

I still had the clothes on my back and my knife. And there on the robe next to me were seven red apples. I surmised Kahwihta must have felt some remorse that probably one of her brothers entered the tent and tried to crush my skull with his warclub. That he failed was scant comfort in light of the bloody, swollen gash on the back of my head. 

I stumbled to my feet and felt a dizziness like I’d not known before. Thereafter I fell to my knees and spewed my previous day’s victuals on the ground next to me. 

I felt it wise to leave behind, in greatest haste, the village of Ta-ra-jo-rees as best I could, lest Kahwihta’s brothers returned to take my clothes and life, too. So I gathered up my robe, tying within it the seven apples of regret left by the comely Kahwihta. I then crawled on my hands and knees, like some beast of the wild, into the dense forest surrounding me.

It took me four days and every apple to reach Fort Hunter to the north by east. 

I should be quite grateful to Kahwihta, for I’m sure it was through her intercession that I am here today to tell my story of that verdant valley and the beautiful Mohawk girl. I blame myself, my arrogance and my poor language skills for all of this: my failed mission, the loss of my gun and the tools of my profession. and my near-death. 

You see, one of the old scouts at Fort Hunter told me what Kahwihta means in the Mohawk tongue. It means She Takes it With Her.

Indeed.

This story started out as a hoped-for 250-words or less piece of flash fiction for the weekly contest at Indies Unlimited website. But then, as usual, creative momentum and a too-long-dormant story-telling muscle went on a spree.  Yeah, it’s rough as a cob, but it’s just shy of 700 words, so it still qualifies as flash. And I feel better for having stuck with it.

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We Drink to the Old Fox

horse-back

The old man shivered as he sat upon his white horse. He sat as tall as he did in the old days, when he led armies into battle, even though the effort to do so was excruciating.

In some ways this feeling reminded him of the debacle from that winter so many years ago. The enemy commander a martinet who considered anathema the celebration of The Lord’s birth with song and libation. To him, it was just another day in the field for Prince and some other country. They were ready for the General’s force and cut it to ribbons.

The army he led this day was even less organized, untrained and most certainly less disciplined than that one. But that was a different fight, for a different overall goal, even if the reason these two armies faced one another across this western Pennsylvania field was one of the causes of the war that enabled them to be here in the first place. Taxes.

The old general stared across the field and could see His Excellency, once again at the head of his troops. He shook his head. That man’s courage and stupidity are exceeded only by his disregard for his own casualties and his amazing luck. He should have been killed or injured in ‘77, but for being thrown from his horse and landing upon a pile of his own dead, he thought.

The General estimated the opposing force as something more than 10,000 men, which was not a surprise, since His Excellency wanted to make a show of his power and station no matter where he sat, be it in the executive mansion or on the back of a black horse while he wore the Cornwallis’ surrendered saber.

“What are your orders, Gen’rul,” a Scots-Irish militia captain from hill country the other side of the Cumberland Gap said, his broad-brimmed hat in one hand, a dazzling curly maple piece of some Pennsylvania gunsmith’s art in the other.

The General, knowing his army of farmers and moonshiners would matter-of-factly drop the reins of their plow horses, pick up their long rifles and fight off seemingly overwhelming numbers of Shawnee at the first whoop, squinted with his diminished vision at the opposing army and said, “We wait. If His Excellency wishes another revolution, let him start it here.”

But the old man, his arthritis grating, his jaw throbbing and his once-buoyant ego now raised solely by its location upon this bluff and a 15-hand white gelding, began to think his hoped for rebellion against the unfair tax on individual distillers was doomed before it began. His show of force and resolve paled to the force and resolve of His Excellency, the President. These weren’t tax collectors and marshals they faced, but a standing army and organized militias.

He turned to his second-in-command, Nat Greene, who also suffered the wrath of Congress after December ‘76.

“I would say, General, that we have once again been overwhelmed by a superior force, not that our men don’t have principle and courage on their side. Does fighting Hamilton’s accursed tax merit the loss of life that we will no doubt suffer here?” the old soldier said.

“We’ve been on the losing end of too many of these scrapes, I fear, Sir. Would one more make that much of a difference in our already tarnished legacies?” Greene said, still the doleful devil’s advocate.

The blue-clad General weighed the odds and what capitulation would mean to his men, as well as himself as the proprietor the largest distillery in all the states. Better to give up some profit in whisky tax to that traitorous Hamilton then to lose all in a bloodbath here in western Pennsylvania.

Memory of his first defeat came back to him. His surrender to French and Indian forces out here in western Pennsylvania nagged at him his whole adult life. The retreats during the war for independence were one thing, but surrendering to a smug opposing leader was another.

The old General turned to Greene and his other lieutenants and said, “I think this has gone far enough. Bring me a white flag and tell the over-mountain men to return quickly to their farmsteads. I’ll take care of this. It’s men like me they really want their pound of flesh from. Besides, the revenue agents have to find our Kentuckians before they can collect from them. I’d say they stand a better chance of being killed by Shawnee, Chickamauga and Mingo than getting a patch of skin off our westerners.”

“You’re surrendering, General?” Greene asked, a look of disbelief and disappointment crossing his face.

“In a way. I’m surrendering so our neighbors won’t have to. I know His Excellency for what he is, courageous but foolhardy, hot-blooded and given to polishing his medals. I believe I shall bring along a piece of white cloth with which to help him,” the old General said.

Greene smiled and nodded.

“Yes, sir. I believe in a way you shall defeat him here without firing a shot.”

The General, Greene and some of his whisky-making colleagues from Virginia rode slowly out into the would-be field of combat under their white flag. Almost without hesitation, His Excellency spurred his black toward them, waving his lieutenants to follow him, as always, at the gallop.

Reining up, he smiled his smug smile as his men slowed to a trot behind him.

“Good day to you, Your Excellency,” the old General said, his jaw clenched, but in pain, not embarrassment.

“And to you, General. You look well, sir. I see the infirmities of rustic camp life have not diminished your old vigour,” His Excellency said. He stared intently into the old General’s eyes, judging what he deemed jealousy simmering in their rheumy condition.

“General, violence will not solve this dispute. It is the law of the nation, established by your very own erstwhile adjutant. You and your ‘army’ stand no chance against the assembled arms you see behind me. In fact, I see scores of your rebels already melting back into the countryside from which they came,” he said.

The old Genral turned in his saddle and hid a painful grin.

“I must agree with you, Your Excellency. Such a battle would leave this field littered with our dead. And while it would be a tragedy for independent men who turn the bounty of their crops into a public necessity, such bloodshed would leave your government bereft of individuals from whom to bleed your tax, something you and I fought a war to free our people from,” the General said.

“So, General, will you retire from the field and send your people back to their loving families and bountiful farmsteads?” His Excellency said.

“Aye, sir. You have bested me once again with a reputation built upon the bones of your enemies. You may send your tax collectors where you may to bleed us dry so the nation may drink to your honour,” the General said, and wheeled his white horse without another word.

“And to yours, good sir, and to your continued good health,” His Excellency replied.

As His Excellency returned to his cheering army, he couldn’t help but feel the swell of pride in his latest victory. This one not as a mere soldier anymore. No, this one, over the man Congress had once picked for leadership of colonial forces. This victory now as President of the United States.

With the huzzahs of his men ringing in his ears, President Benedict Arnold never heard the laughter of his opponent and his party at the pomposity and puffed up gullibility the Old Man had just leveraged to save his men from bloody defeat or capture.

Congress never appreciated these skills, he recalled; but that was politics, something he never wanted to play back in 1777 or now. The old fox was happy to return home to his farm and distillery on the Potomac and live out his remaining days as gentleman farmer George Washington.

Trying to catch up with my Story a Day challenge. I’m sure I win’s beat the calendar this time, but I’ll still try to get as many written as possible. Today’s story was supposed to be a third-person version——a changed point of view——from my first-person story in Week One, Another Victory for His Excellency. Had a little trouble figuring out how I’d accomplish it, but it came to me this afternoon. Two hours later, here’s your (a touch too long for flash fiction) first draft of how old General George, in his own way, outfoxed President Benedict.

Like a Wave

Johnson_1920_HighPlains
An 1897 photograph of a buffalo wallow, by Willard Drake Johnson. 
Photo via Wikipedia

After the third day and night on the run from the Cheyenne with no food and little water, his horse now lying dead a thousand yards away, Cleve Mason settled to rest in a buffalo wallow somewhere south of the Platte River in western Nebraska Territory.

Gathering some buffalo chips from the rim surrounding the nearly dry depression in the prairie, Mason lit a smokeless fire and began cooking off a piece of his mount’s stringy haunch.

Mason had been lucky enough to evade his pursuers this long, but fatigue and hunger proved too much, figuring it was only a matter of time before the marauders rolled over him like a red, feathered wave.

“The hell with this, just let ‘em come,” Mason said, as he gorged himself on a huge chunk of horse meat, closing his eyes and trying not to think that only an hour before it had been his companion for two years.

So intent was he with his meal he never saw, heard nor smelled the wall of flame, a speeding prairie fire set upwind by the Cheyenne, as it rolled over him like a red wave, though not the one he expected.

A quick five-sentence piece of flash historical fiction based on Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word, ENGULF. Thought I’d try a couple uses of the idea of the word.

Colonel Louis Comes to Call

Colonol Louis

Pencil sketch of Colonel Louis by John Trumbull

Even before Trish Bodden turned to see the dark man wearing a mélange of Mohawk, frontier militia and country gentleman’s clothing standing in the back doorway of her master’s house on Schoharie Creek, she could feel dark eyes watching her.

“Excusez-moi, Madame, parlez-vous français, ou Kanien’keha, or the Anglish…I regret I do not speak the German.” he said, with a pronounced French accent.

“I speak English and you, sir, will scare the children if you continue to stand there in so threatening a manner, so I must ask that you step back,” said Trish, hands on her hips, trying her best to sound like the confident lady of the manor.

“Ah, yes, les bebes…the ones who belong inside these doors, unlike you, the indentured girl, nor I, Louis Cook, the man who is not white, nor truly black nor red, yet am asked by your General Schuyler to kill them all,” he replied with a deep bow and broad smile.

“That may be true enough, sir, but I am inside these doors and now you are not; and you will find the master and his sons coming any minute from those trees on their way home from the Herkimers’…oh, there they are now,” Trish said, closing the door, swiftly slipping a thick bolt of hickory across the jambs, sitting on the floor, and exhaling a long shivering sigh as she pulled one of the master’s horse pistols out from the folds of her skirts.

Based on the prompt word Doors, for Lillie McFerrin’s Five Sentence Fiction exercise, I thought I’d play with the lead character and a very interesting supporting player in the novel I’ve been researching and denying for the past year. Maybe a few of you’ve seen Trish in another story I wrote called Stillwater. Oh, and there really was a Joseph Louis Cook or Akiatonharónkwen, a half-African, half-Abenaki leader of the Oneidas in the American Revolutionary War.  Oh, one last bit of business: the word “Kanien’keha” is Mohawk for…well, “Mohawk.” 

Five-Sentence Fiction ~ Distance

Lillie McFerrin

Dust to Dust

A Kiowa ledger drawing possibly depicting the ...

A Kiowa ledger drawing possibly depicting the Buffalo Wallow battle in 1874, a fight between Southern Plains Indians and the U.S. Army during the Red River War. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“How far you figure they’re away?…Do you think it’s them…the Comanches, I mean…is it true what they do to white women, Mr Hook?” Aliceanne Gibbs cried, tears running muddy streams from her blue eyes and down her dirty cheeks as she stared at the cloud of dust on the southern horizon.

“I’d say no more’n eight mile, maybe an hour to find us,” said the man called Eb Hook, who fancied himself a scout here on the high plains of Texas, though the true scouts like Billy Dixon knew him to be a boastful fool.

“I reckon if we hunker down under the brush in this buffalo wallow, they’ll ride around looking us, maybe follow our horses east,” Hook said, unsure if his ruse of running off their spent horses might work, but hopeful the colored boys from the Ninth Cavalry might scare the Comanche off before the the heathens found the girl and him.

But as the dust cloud to the south got closer, Hook remembered the last time he saw what pure butchering hell the Comanch’ did to men they captured, let alone the women, and decided he wouldn’t let them have their fun that June day in 1874.

When the squad of Ninth Cavalry troopers trailing a cloud of the Llano Estacado behind them rode in from the from the south, its leader, Sergeant Purvis Lee, looked at the scene in the wallow and said, “Why this fool Hook shoot the white lady and then hisself when no Comanch’ in hunnert mile o’ here?”

©Joseph Hesch 2012

This week’s little story is written in response to Lillie McFerrin’s Five-Sentence Fiction prompt “Distance.