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Rivers of War: Snippet Thirty Nine

       Last updated: Sunday, March 27, 2005 10:00 EST



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 39:

    The voice of John Ross broke the trance.

    “Tiana! Look out!”

    Startled, Tiana tore her eyes away and saw that the Chickasaw whom James had sent into the river was now swimming toward her.

    The half grin, half snarl on his painted face would have been enough to make clear his intentions. Even if he hadn’t had his knife clenched between his teeth so that his hands would be free, allowing him to swim more quickly.

    Tiana had been in a lot of fights, the way girls will. A couple of them had been ferocious, with Tiana leaving her opponent unconscious. In one case, the person had received a broken arm.

    This had been her first real battle, however, fought with weapons and with deadly purpose. But of all the things that happened that day, this attack was the only one that made her truly furious.

    Why is he doing this?

    “You idiot!” she shrieked, as the man came up to her. His last breaststroke left his head completely exposed.

    Tiana was six feet tall, strong for her size, and a very good swimmer. A powerful thrust of her legs sent her up. She raised the musket out of the water, holding it in one hand.

    The Chickasaw’s eyes widened. He hadn’t spotted the musket.

    “Idiot!” she shrieked again. Her grip on the musket butt felt like iron. So did the butt strike itself, when it came down on the warrior’s head.

    His eyes rolled up. Blood spurted from the corners of his mouth as his jaws clenched on the knife between his teeth.

    Tiana brought the butt up for another strike, but by the time she could kick her legs again to get into position, the Chickasaw was gone. She thought she might have felt his fingers tugging on one of her leggings, for just a moment, as he sank beneath the surface.

    But she wasn’t sure. As hard as she’d hit him, he’d been too dazed to do anything that wasn’t pure reflex. He’d probably drown, unless someone fished him out.

    Which Tiana had no intention of doing. She started swimming back to the canoe. Moving more awkwardly than she normally would have. Whatever else, she wasn’t going to let go of the musket. There were monsters in the river.

    James hauled her aboard, none too gently. Just a powerful heave that sent her sprawling into the canoe, while he went back to paddling.

    “Next time,” he growled, “don’t stand up to fight in a canoe. Unless you know what you’re doing. Which you don’t.”

    Tiana made no retort. She was too busy scrabbling to get her head above the side of the vessel, so she could see what was happening with the other enemy canoe.


    It was now at least forty yards off. The three men left in it—she must have hit two of them, after all, with that first rifle shot—were just staring. Then, as if her gaze was the trigger, they suddenly started paddling away.

    Sequoyah had never fired again, she realized. She looked over and saw that the lame warrior was just sitting in his canoe, calmly and confidently, his musket ready. He’d been waiting for the enemy to come closer so he could kill one of them.

    But the Chickasaws had had enough.

    Shakily, but proudly, Tiana realized that this fight on the river was going to become a small legend of its own. Six Cherokees—one of them an old woman— had faced almost twice that number of enemies. And they’d left seven of them dead or badly wounded, while not suffering a single casualty of their own.

    She gloated too soon. The one and only casualty they suffered that day happened two seconds later. An arrow fired from the riverbank almost maimed her. Fortunately, the wicked arrowhead left only a gash on the back of her left hand, before slicing off into the water. If it had struck her wrist squarely, she’d have lost the hand.


    “You’re lucky,” Nancy Ward said to her later, once they came ashore several miles farther down the river.

    The old woman finished replacing Tiana’s own quick dressing with an expert bandage. “It didn’t cut any of the tendons. You’ll have a scar there, for a while. But I think it’ll eventually fade away.”

    Tiana hoped it wouldn’t, although she didn’t say it aloud. Nancy Ward had been her heroine since she’d been a little girl. And now, Tiana had the visible proof that she wasn’t unfit to travel in her company.

    “And don’t get too swell-headed,” Nancy murmured. “That’s a much worse kind of wound. Most people never recover from it.”

    “I won’t,” Tiana promised.

    Nancy patted her cheek. “Oh, yes, you will. Why shouldn’t you? You were very brave, and very good—and you can take that from a woman who knows. Just don’t let the swelling get too big, that’s all.”

    Alas, James must have heard the softly spoken words. He had very good hearing.

    “No chance of that,” he chuckled. “The Raven’ll shrink her head right down. Best-looking girl in John Jolly’s band, and he won’t pay any attention to her at all.”

    She scowled at him. That was probably true, but . . .

    Her other brother was grinning at her, too! John had finally washed the splinters out of his eyes. Luckily, there didn’t seem to be any permanent damage.

    “What are you looking at?” she demanded. “Now that looking doesn’t do anybody any good.”

    John’s grin just widened. “Oh, how quick with a blade she is! What you’d expect, of course, from a great warrior woman. But you still shouldn’t sneer at your brother, even if his own exploits didn’t match yours.”

    Tiana glared at both of them. “The two of you are making fun of me.”

    “No, we’re not,” James said. To her surprise, his tone was firm and calm, not jocular. “We’re just telling you the truth.”

    “You should find a different husband,” John agreed. “Colonneh isn’t right for you.”

    “Find me a better one, then!” Tiana snapped. James and John looked at each other. Then smiled. She’d been afraid they would.

    “All right.”

    “We will.”


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