Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

Rivers of War: Snippet Fifteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, February 23, 2005 10:00 EST



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 15:


    There were still skirmishes taking place here and there, but the immediate vicinity was relatively calm.

    The Red Stick village had been all but destroyed. As he searched for Colonel Williams among the soldiers who were milling about, John Ross and James Rogers following close behind, Houston came upon a militiaman standing over an old Creek man. The Creek must have been addled as well as elderly, because—right there in the middle of a battle—he was squatting on the ground, pounding corn with a mortar.

    The militiamen raised his musket and shot the old man in the head.

    The bullet passed right through the skull, blowing blood and brains and pieces of bone all over the ground. Then, kneeling next to the corpse, the militiaman pulled out his knife and cut away the old man’s breechclout. Following that, he started to make an incision in the corpse’s leg, beginning just above the heel.

    Houston froze. His companions also stopped, and stood silently.

    The killing had been bad enough, since the old idiot was obviously no danger to anyone. Now—Sam had heard tales, but never really believed them—the militiaman was going to skin a long strap from the body, most likely to use it for a set of reins. Boasting rights, among his buddies when he got home.

    The paralysis broke before the militiaman’s cut got past the buttock. Houston limped over, feeling light-headed. Horror was replaced by fury.

    “What in the blazes are you doing?”

    The militiaman was so engrossed in his work that he apparently missed the meaning of Houston’s tone.

    “Finally killed me an injun,” he said gleefully, not even looking up. “First chance I got today. Them cussed regulars—”

    The rest was lost in a squawk of surprise when Houston grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and, in a single one-armed heave, hauled him to his feet. The man gaped up at him.

    Sam batted the knife out of his hand, then backhanded him hard enough to split his lip.

    The soldier shook his head, half dazed. That had been a powerful blow, even though it hadn’t been delivered by a closed fist.

    “Hey!” he squawked. His hand flew up to his bleeding mouth.

    “Tell you what,” Sam said thinly. “I just realized that while I’ve killed me some injuns today, I ain’t killed me a single stinking militiaman.”

    He drew his pistol. The man stared at it, his face suddenly going pale.

    “Hey!” he protested again, the word garbled by the hand that was still covering his mouth.

    For a moment, Houston glared down at him. He was sorely tempted to drive the butt of the pistol right into the man’s face. As strong as he was, and as angry as he was, he’d smash the man’s hand, as well as his mouth. Probably break his jaw in the bargain, even with the hand absorbing the impact.

    But . . .

    No. He reined in his temper. Enough was enough. The old Creek was dead anyway, and he couldn’t let the situation spin out of control.

    He looked around. Three other militiamen stood nearby, staring at him. Two of them had brought their rifles halfway up.

    He grinned humorlessly and cocked the pistol, though he didn’t—quite— point it at them. “Go ahead,” he said. “This worthless bastard’s too mangy-looking to make me a good set of reins. But any one of you will do. Any one at all.”

    The three men all swallowed. Their eyes flitted back and forth between Houston and his two Cherokee companions.

    John Ross didn’t really know what to do. He looked to James to get some guidance, but realized immediately that would be no help. Like Houston, James was grinning now, too. He’d sidled over a few paces, clearly ready to hurl himself at the militiamen once Houston fired the pistol. They were close enough that he could probably get in among them with his war club before they could shoot him.

    There’d be one less by then, anyway. John had no doubt at all that Houston was prepared to fire—and not much doubt that, at this range, he’d hit his target squarely. There was something almost frighteningly competent about the big young American.

    Ross knew as well that, for James, the only issue involved here was what amounted to an incipient clan feud—and The Raven, white man or not, was part of his clan. That made it all very simple for him.

    The murdered old man had been nothing to Rogers. Just an enemy—and killing noncombatants was as common among Indians as it was among whites. So was mutilating their corpses. In one of the atrocities committed by the followers of Tecumseh last year, which had triggered off the current war, they’d not only murdered seven white settlers on the Ohio but had disemboweled a pregnant woman and impaled her unborn baby on a stake.

    Here and now, if Houston hadn’t intervened, Rogers would have passed by without comment. He might have given the matter a second glance. Then, again, he might not have.

    But Houston had intervened, and that made it a clan matter. So James was ready to kill as soon as the fight erupted.

    For a moment, John wished that his own thoughts and sentiments were as clear and straightforward. But only for a moment. James Rogers’s traditional way of thinking would lead the Cherokee to disaster, just as surely as Tecumseh’s new way of thinking had led his followers to their doom. John could see that disaster coming, the way a man can see a thunderstorm developing in the distance.

    He was pretty sure The Ridge could see it coming also.

    He had no idea what to do about it, not yet. If there was anything that could be done at all. What he did know was that if there was any solution, it would come from people who could think a little crookedly. People like himself, who’d always felt somewhat twisted in the world.

    And, maybe, people like this peculiar young ensign, who was prepared to start killing men of his own race over what amounted to a moral abstraction.

    John decided that was good enough, for the moment. Who was to say how new clans emerged? It was all lost somewhere back in time, in a thousand different stories and legends. Maybe a new one was being born here. Or something similar enough.

    He drew his own pistol and cocked it. Quite proud, for an instant, that his hands weren’t shaking at all. Granted, he’d probably miss his target. He’d missed just about everything else he’d tried to shoot that day. But he’d give it his level best, for sure.

    Hearing the sound of Ross’s pistol being cocked, too, the militiamen suddenly broke. Houston could tell—knew it for a certainty—even though there was no visible sign beyond the fact that one of them stepped a half pace back. It was just, somehow, obvious.

    Good enough.

    The general wouldn’t thank him any if Houston started a side war between the Cherokees and regulars against the Tennessee militia, who constituted not only the majority of Jackson’s army but, push come to shove, his political constituency as well. Certainly not over an issue like a murdered old Creek.

    He uncocked his own pistol then, and shoved it back into his waistband. “The general gave clear and direct orders,” he announced loudly. “And you heard them. No killing of noncombatants.”

    He cleared his throat. “It’s my responsibility to enforce discipline. Which—”

    He glanced down at the militiaman he’d cuffed. Blood from the split lip was seeping through his fingers. It was a cheery sight.

    “I have,” he concluded. He waved his hand in a peremptory gesture. “So go on about your business, men. That’s an order. I’m on an errand for the general.”

    With that, he turned away and began limping in the direction he thought—for no good reason, really—he was most likely to find Colonel Williams.

    Ross hurried to follow. When James Rogers caught up to them, he was still grinning.

    “Too bad,” he said. “It would have been a good fight. We’d have won, too.”


Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image