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Rivers of War: Snippet Fifty Five

       Last updated: Monday, April 18, 2005 11:55 EDT



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 55:

    Tiana wasn’t sulking in her tent. In fact, she wasn’t sulking at all.

    Not any longer, anyway.

    She’d given in to Sam’s demands that she remain behind while he dashed to and fro rallying the soldiers. No sooner had he left, however, than her sullen resentment had turned impish.

    Houston had told her and the other children—as if she were a “child”!—to remain in the Senate. So, naturally, as soon as he had he left with John Ross in tow, she led them across to the House of Representatives. Even Sequoyah didn’t argue the matter. She thought he was a bit disgruntled himself, at being left out of the battle.

    It had been a fortunate move, even if driven only by rebellious impulse. In the Senate, she and the Ridge children had just been underfoot. But, once in the House, she discovered Commodore Barney, lying wounded on his settee. The small mob of admirers who had earlier surrounded the commodore was gone, and he was looking a bit forlorn. He was obviously in considerable pain, too, now that the excitement of his arrival was past.

    Tiana needed something to keep her mind off the coming battle. So she decided to tend to the commodore’s injuries.

    The man seemed surprised—even a bit shocked—by the easy and casual manner in which she went about the business. Why? she wondered. Injuries, even injuries taken in battle, were messy and undignified by their very nature. The scars to come would be suitable objects for boasting, but the open wounds themselves were simply ugly.

    “They did a good job,” she pronounced, after lacing and buttoning the commodore back up. “I don’t care for that poultice, but I suppose it’ll do.”

    “You speak English?” he asked, still rather wide-eyed.

    Tiana snorted, then muttered something in Cherokee.

    “I’m sorry, lass. I didn’t understand that.”

    Tiana decided the mutter was probably best left untranslated.

    “Of course I speak English, Commodore. I can read it, too. My father’s a Scotsman, and he’s hardly the only one in my family tree. Many Cherokees speak English.”

    She pointed to the Ridge children. “They can read and speak the language, too. They’ve been studying with the Moravians.”

    Barney’s eyes moved to the youngsters. Nancy Ridge smiled shyly. John Ridge and Buck Watie just looked solemn.

    “Indeed.” The commodore cleared his throat. “A day of many surprises for me, then—or perhaps I should say, considerable learning.”

    He looked back at Tiana. “What are you doing here, if I might ask, in the company of Captain Houston?”

    Tiana stood up, grinning. “Major Ridge—he’s one of our chiefs and the father of John and Nancy here—wanted his children to get a better American education. So he asked Sam to bring them to Washington with him and find them a proper school. I came because ...Well, I felt like it.”

    Like a small whirlwind, Sam Houston and John Ross came blowing into the chamber, followed by a gaggle of soldiers who seemed to be serving them as an escort. Sam’s eyebrows went up a bit, seeing Tiana and the children in the chamber, but—wisely—he just went on his way. Tiana could hear him start speechifying again as soon as he left. His booming voice penetrated back into the chamber from one of the adjoining rooms.

    “To human force and human skill the field: Dark show’rs of javelins fly from foes to foes; Now here, now there, the tide of combat flows—”

    “Does that silly chatter really do any good?” Tiana wondered.

    The commodore smiled. “Oh, yes, lass. A great deal, in fact. Not so much the words—never much liked Homer myself, the truth be told—but just the fact that he’s spouting them so surely. Terror is the great enemy, in a battle. The first duty of a commander is to slay the monster, which is what your fine young captain is about. And doing splendidly well at it.”

    Tiana shook her head dubiously. “I’d think—”

    She fell silent. Another officer had come into the chamber. This one, with a pace that could be better described as that of the tides.

    She met his eyes across the room. Quite pale in color, those eyes had been earlier, when she’d seen them in the sunlight. Now, lit only by the lamps in the chamber, they seemed very dark.

    The darkness was the truer color. Asgá siti, that man was. More so than even Major Ridge, she thought.

    An American girl might have been repelled by that knowledge. Tiana, Cherokee, was not. In the end, nations lived and died by such men.

    So she met his gaze calmly and levelly. It was he who looked away.

    Ha! He was attracted to her! That was . . .


    Barney’s eyes had now moved to the new arrival, as well.

    “Lieutenant Driscol,” he said. “What a great pleasure to see you here.”

    Commodore Barney knew very little about Lieutenant Patrick Driscol, beyond the man’s name. But he was far too experienced a commander not to recognize what he was, just from watching the way the lieutenant had carried himself thus far.

    A great pleasure, indeed. There wasn’t a single naval engagement Barney had won in the war of independence—he’d fought thirty-five, in all, and been defeated only five times—that hadn’t, in the end, been won because of men such as Driscol. If captains like Houston could rally a broken army, it was only because lieutenants like Driscol provided it with a spine that had remained intact. The Driscols of the world could be beaten, surely. Broken, never.

    Barney gestured toward the man, inviting him to approach. It was obvious that the lieutenant had entered the chamber for that very purpose, although—

    Barney glanced up at Tiana, and suppressed a smile. Now that he was here, clearly enough, the good lieutenant had found another item of interest in the place. Even if he was doing his level best not to make it evident.

    Driscol came forward, to stand beside the settee.

    “May I be of any assistance, Lieutenant?”

    “Yes, sir. It’s the rockets, Commodore. I was wondering about them.”

    The lieutenant looked a bit embarrassed, for an instant, the way a master craftsman might when he is forced to confess that he lacks a certain bit of knowledge concerning his own trade.

    “It’s simply that I’ve never faced them, sir. The Congreves are a newfangled device, and we never had to deal with them on the continent when I was in the French army. Nor did Riall have any at the Chippewa. But they started using them at Lundy’s Lane, and I’ve heard that Cockburn and Ross seem to have brought shiploads of the things.”

    The continent. That explained a great deal.

    “You were serving with the emperor, I take it?”

    Driscol nodded. “Aye, sir. For a goodly number of years.”

    Barney nodded, then extended a hand toward Tiana. “Help me up, would you, lass?”

    A moment later, he was sitting erect. Tiana’s grip surprised him with its strength. He was even more surprised at the instant way she acceded to his request. A white girl would have wasted time insisting he was too weak to move.


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