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Rivers of War: Snippet Thirty Five

       Last updated: Monday, March 21, 2005 11:06 EST



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 35:


    CHAPTER 15

    June 17, 181 4 The Tennessee River, above Chatanuga

    Tiana Rogers stared down at the arrow stuck into the side of the canoe, less than a hand’s span from her hip. The tip of the blade had punched right through the thin wall of the craft and almost penetrated her skin. The shaft of the arrow was still thrumming.

    For just an instant, she was paralyzed.

    If I get killed on this trip, all because of Sam Houston, I’ll kill him! I swear I will!

    The circular absurdity of the thought caused her to burst into laughter. Her older brothers James and John were already rolling the canoe, and Tiana threw her weight into the motion also. So, to her regret a moment later, she fell into the river with an open mouth and came up under the shelter of the canoe shell coughing up water.

    At least she’d had the satisfaction of knowing she’d die laughing. With the pride of a sixteen-year-old girl, that was not a small matter.

    It was nearly dark under the canoe. The vessel’s walls were thick enough to block out sunlight, so the only light in the small open-air space under the shell was coming up through the muddy water. Still, she had no trouble seeing the grin on the face of her brother James.

    “What’s so funny?” demanded John, always the more serious of the two.

    James had an uncanny knack for reading her mind. “She’s probably thinking how silly it’d be to get killed chasing after The Raven. Might as well chase a real bird.”

    Tiana saw no reason to dignify that with a response. Besides, John was still talking.

    “Creeks, d’you think? We’d better start moving to the other shore. If they keep firing, they’ll eventually rip it to pieces.”

    As if to illustrate his point, they heard two thunking noises in close succession. Somewhere toward the bow of the canoe. Tiana saw that more arrow blades had punched through.

    Then came two muffled booms.

    “That’ll be John Ross and Sequoyah, shooting back from the other canoe,” James stated. “John won’t hit anything, but Sequoyah’s a good shot. They might drive them off. Let me take a look.”

    James moved easily in the water, even though he was encumbered in travel clothing. He vanished from under the canoe shell.

    He was back in less than half a minute.

    “They drove them off, all right. For the time being, anyway Let’s roll the canoe. It’d still be a smart idea to push it to the other shore, using it for shelter—but it’ll be a lot easier with the thing sitting right side up.”

    “Make sure all our gear is still tied in, first,” John cautioned. “Washington is still a long ways off.”

    “What’s the point?” James demanded. “If something came loose and went into the river, we’ll never find it anyway.”

    But he was already moving under the shell, checking their goods, which were bound up in oilskins and lashed securely to the canoe frame. The American capital was a long ways off, and their journey had only just begun.


    Some time later, on the southern shore of the river, they did their best to dry their clothes without taking them off. None of them thought the attack was over, and they didn’t want to be caught naked. The first thing they’d done, of course, was patch the holes in the canoe.

    “Wasn’t Creeks,” Sequoyah said in his usual terse manner. “I saw the war paint on one of them. Got a good look, before I shot him. Chickasaws.”

    John Ross frowned. It was an oddly mixed expression, Tiana thought, somehow managing to combine ruefulness and doubt at the same time.

    “I missed my own shot. But why would the Chickasaws be attacking us? They’re our allies in this war.”

    Seeing the annoyed look on Sequoyah’s face, he hastened to add: “I’m not arguing about the paint. I didn’t see it well enough myself to know. I just don’t understand the reason for it.”

    James Rogers chuckled harshly. “You spend too much time reading American books and newspapers. What’s the ‘war’ and ‘allies’ got to do with anything? This’ll be a clan fight.”

    The last and oldest member of their six-person party spoke up. Nancy Ward, that was.

“I’m sure James is right. There was a killing nearly two months ago, farther down the river at a trading post below the Suck. One of James Vann’s relatives—second cousin, I think—was said to have killed a Chickasaw.”

    James and John Rogers nodded, as if that explained the matter completely.

    Ross, on the other hand, rolled his eyes, and Sequoyah shook his head. Like Tiana, both of them thought the situation was absurd.

    She glanced at Nancy Ward, and saw that the old woman had a tight, disapproving look on her face. Clearly enough, Nancy was of the same mind.

    It was odd, Tiana thought, how differently her brothers seemed to look at the world. James and John were just as mixed as she was—which meant, in terms of blood, that they were actually more white than Cherokee. But both of them held to a very traditional Cherokee viewpoint. One that she couldn’t entirely embrace.

    John Ross didn’t think that way, either, which might be explained by the fact that seven of his eight great-grandparents were Scots.

    But Nancy Ward was a full-blood, even if her second husband had been a white man. And her way of thinking was a lot closer to Ross and Sequoyah and Tiana herself than to her brothers.

    “James Vann.” Ross pronounced the words as if they left a bad taste in his mouth. Which, they probably did.

    Vann had been a prominent Cherokee. He was dead now, murdered over five years ago by an unknown assailant. It could have been just about anyone, as many enemies as the man had made in his brutal life. No one, not even his own clan, had tried to find out who’d done it. But he’d left a legacy that continued to this day. Unfortunately, Vann had been a town chief, as well as a prosperous mixed-blood trader. He’d had more than one wife, a slew of offspring and relatives, and a small host of hangers-on. No doubt it was one of those who had killed the Chickasaw at the Trading Post.

    The person who’d done it, like James Vann himself, wouldn’t have given a moment’s thought to the political repercussions of his violence. Neither, probably, had his victim. The Chickasaw was just as likely to be a mixed-blood as the Vann cousin, and just as loosely connected to his clan.

    But that didn’t matter. When a killing like that happened, the ancient customs came into play. The dead Chickasaw’s clan would be out looking for revenge—and any Cherokee would do. The fact that there was a war going on, in which both the Chickasaws and the Cherokees were allied with the Americans, just didn’t matter.

    Angrily, Ross scuffed the soil of the riverbank with his boot. “It’s no wonder the Americans always play us for fools! The British and the French and the Spanish, too. Half our people—every tribe’s—are too busy with their idiotic feuds to even think about what’s happening to us all.”

    James Rogers shrugged. “I’m not going to argue the point, since I probably agree with you. But so what? Before we start for Washington, we’ve got to get to Oothcaloga and meet up with The Raven. That’s a fair distance itself—and those Chickasaws won’t have given up. We probably just ran into a few of them, and now they’ll gather their whole war party.

    “This thing isn’t over yet.”

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