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1637: No Peace Beyond the Line: Chapter Seventeen

       Last updated: Sunday, October 25, 2020 09:39 EDT



Just outside San José de Oruña, Trinidad

     “I am O’Donnell,” replied Hugh, “and I do speak Spanish, as does my second-in-command, Aodh O’Rourke. We thank you for honoring us with an invitation to speak to you in your war-camp.”

    Hyarima acknowledged the thanks, looked around at his warriors, who seemed to be more surprised than ever. “You do us honor to come. The Dutchmen have spoken of you. They said you were a war captain and leader of your people. They also told us that you are, as they say, a ‘man of your word.’ We welcome this. Not all of the men who come from over the sea keep their word. No matter what language they speak.”

    O’Donnell nodded. “I understand. I am grateful you do not assume I am like them.”

    Hyarima almost smiled as he gestured that they should sit. “I already know you are not like them.”

    Hugh raised an eyebrow. “How do you know this?”

    Hyarima nodded. “You have manners. You act like a Person. You treat me as a Person. O’Rourke and his friend Calabar did no less when they met my cousin Sukumar last year. They too, acted as Persons. All this is well.”

    From the emphasis Hyarima put on the word “Person,” Hugh gathered it meant something akin to a “civilized person.” “How else would one act?” he wondered aloud.

    Hyarima’s face became less expressive. “Men from your lands over the sea are often aloof at first, as a cacique might be with the youngest of his tribe. But then, if they need something from us, they change. They bring gifts and speak as does a captured warrior to the chief of his enemies, wringing hands, promising to do things that have not even been asked of them. But then, after we help them and they become strong again, they return to treating us as children. Bad children.

    “Only a few ever do what you have done: to greet us as a Person greets a Person, with respect and expecting the same in return. This is a good sign. I am glad we meet. Now let us discuss the matters that concern us both. I regret I offer no food or drink or even much time, but battlefields are not good places for talking.”

    No, indeed. But Hugh said aloud. “I agree, Hyarima. I am told you have asked the Dutch that, henceforth, you and I shall sit to discuss and arrange the affairs between our peoples.”

    “This is so. You are a man who understands my role here.”

    Hugh heard strong emphasis on the last part of Hyarima’s reply. “Hyarima, what do you mean by your ‘role here’? And why would I understand it more than other men?”

    Hyarima swept his arm at the war-poised tableau behind him. “I fight the Spanish to retake my homeland. This land was Nepoia land before the Spanish came and took it for themselves and their Arawak allies. You, the Dutch tell me, know how this feels. You would be a great cacique in your homeland, but you may not return there. Enemies keep that land by helping rival clans against your own, much as the Spanish have held my homeland. Your enemies, like mine, are given better weapons, and your people — again, like mine — became work-slaves.”

    Hyarima looked around the valley. “Seven years ago, I was a slave in these fields, before escaping and returning to my people near the place you call Punta de Galera. And I swore our land would be ours again.” His eyes came to rest on Hugh’s. “And I see in your eyes, and in his” — he gestured at O’Rourke — “that you know this feeling. I think, maybe, the Dutch knew this feeling once, but now, their words and eyes are always filled with gold and silver. And having once been slaves to the Spanish has not made them refuse to keep slaves of their own. But I think it may be different with you.”

    Hugh nodded. “I know what it is like to lose one’s country. Completely, and for a very long time.”

    Hyarima nodded and his eyes became shiny. “When the Spanish settled, in my grandfather’s time, there were forty thousands of us on this island. Now, there are but four thousands. If we would survive as a people, and on the land of our grandmothers and grandfathers, we must free ourselves now.”

    Hugh looked over Hyarima’s shoulder at the ramshackle roofscape of San José de Oruña. “And yet you show great restraint in doing so.”

    Hyarima’s shrug was so slight as to be almost imperceptible. “With the new guns and powder and shot just brought by the Dutchmen, we have been able to defeat many of the Arawak. For many months, we could not fight them well; we had little powder left. They became lazy. So with the new powder, we attacked all at once and without stopping. They were defeated more by their surprise than by us.

    “They have abandoned most of the villages they took in my father’s time and abandoned the Spanish as well. There are so few of the Spanish and their mixed offspring, that we need not be hasty in finishing our war. Instead, it seemed wise to meet you first.”

    “Meet me — us?”

    “Yes, O’Donnell. We are told that you, or your allies, may wish to live on our island. As friends, who will not grow beyond the limits we grant. There, you will wish to live in your own ways. We understand this. You will want farms such as the Spanish have, buildings such as the Spanish have, wells such as the Spanish have. Once we have killed their owners, we would make a gift of these to you and your people, if you wish them.”

    The cacique’s calm eyes promised genocide as if it were a trifling gift, a small token of respect between friends. Hugh shook his head. “Hyarima, I do not ask or hope you to stain your hands with their blood, just so you may give their buildings to us.”

    Hyarima shrugged. “That is not why we are killing them. We must eliminate our enemies, but their farms and buildings are of no use to us. I reasoned your people might feel otherwise.”

    Great God, how do I explain the need for mercy and not sound like I am taking the side of the Spanish against the Nepoias? “If any man, if any people, may claim the right of vengeance, none has better claim than Hyarima and the Nepoia. But I must ask: is there no way to show mercy to those who help end the war by surrendering? I might be able to convince –“

    Hyarima was shaking his head. “The blood-debt is too great, O’Donnell. Perhaps it would not be, if the Spanish did not follow a god who speaks of mercy while encouraging murder.”

    Hugh blinked in surprise. “I do not understand.”

    “Can you not?” Hyarima’s face lost much of its expression. “The Spanish god instructs the Spanish priests to promise mercy and kindness, but does not punish the Spanish soldiers who enslaved and killed my people while wearing the god’s cross-symbol around their necks. They even called upon this god to help them as they slaughtered us in our villages. Not just our warriors, but our women and our children.” Hyarima’s eyes were unblinking and hard. “We have remained peaceful too often, spared the lives of murderers, because of the fine-sounding lies of this god’s teachings. No more.”

    Hugh saw the still-intact town of San José de Oruña over Hyarima’s shoulder, felt fresh sweat break along his brow. If I can’t think of a different appeal in the next minute, all those townspeople are as good as dead. O’Donnell played the last card he held: an appeal to honor. “I understand. The blood of one’s own slain innocents calls loudly to any cacique. It shall to me, also, which is why we may not then live in the places you offer to me.”

    Now it was Hyarima who blinked. “Why should our deeds compel you to reject their houses and fields? Today’s blood is not upon your hands, O’Donnell.”



    Hugh shook his head. “But I cannot stand to gain by that blood, either, Hyarima. How may I invite my people to live in this place, knowing the houses in which they dwell, the fields in which they work, were made ready for them by being washed with the blood of women and children? It may not have been my hand that did the work, but I cannot knowingly gain from your vengeance without becoming party to it.”

    Hyarima frowned, but Hugh had the distinct impression it was not prompted by his rejection of the cacique’s ‘gift’, but at the honor-conundrum behind the rejection. “I understand your words and your concerns, O’Donnell. And they move me. But even if I was to stay my hand against the innocents of these places, one day, the sons of the slain fathers would come for my blood to answer their loss. Or, what is worse, would come for the blood of my sons and grandsons. And daughters and grand-daughters, since the Spanish make war upon everyone.”

    Hugh shrugged. “They would not know so well who slew their fathers if they grew up in a different land.”

    Hyarima’s frown faded. His eyes narrowed. “What do you propose, O’Donnell?”

    “The women and children of the Spanish could be moved.” Tromp will want to put my head in a noose when he hears what I’ve promised. And Cantrell might want to help him. O’Donnell affected a casual shrug as he felt O’Rourke growing rigid beside him. “The Spanish came by boat. Those you spare could leave by boat.”

    Hyarima’s eyes remained narrow. “You are a cacique, O’Donnell. But I was told that the boats are not yours to command. Did the Dutchmen lie to me?”

    Hugh shook his head. “They did not lie. But I have many fine soldiers. The Dutch will need those men alongside them, to fight the Spanish, before this year is past.” He paused. “The Dutch will grant me this boon.”

    Hyarima’s eyes opened slightly. “You would indebt yourself for the Spanish? I have heard whispers, though I cannot be sure of their truth, that the Spanish have lied to you as well, have used you and your men poorly in many wars.”

    Hugh shrugged. “Those words are true. But we were not used poorly by their women and children, Hyarima. So I would not make those innocents pay for the misdeeds of men who should have kept their word.”

    Hyarima’s eyes opened wider. Then he nodded. “So be it. The Spanish women and children shall not be killed or harmed. They shall be removed, according to your word. But if your allies will not cooperate as you assure me –” The unfinished statement was terribly eloquent.

    Hugh nodded. “I understand that you cannot allow the Spanish to stay on your land. The danger, and the insult to your dead, are both too great.”

    “It is well you understand this, and it promises a good friendship between us.”

    “Hyarima, our friendship is so important that I would suggest a further means of ensuring its health.” The Nepoia cacique’s nod invited explication. “I propose that if I or my allies are attacked solely by other men from beyond the sea, that we shall not seek your aid against them. Similarly, if you are attacked solely by the other caciques and tribes of these lands, we shall not become involved.”

    Hyarima frowned. “This is a strange alliance, O’Donnell.”

    Hugh smiled ruefully. “It might seem so, but my homeland is also an island of tightly interwoven families and clans. And so I have learned this: never become involved in the family feuds of your neighbors. Too often the stories tell us of how a much-loved visitor interceded in another family’s feud, and slew one of their distant relatives to save them from harm. But in the years that follow, that family’s gratitude too often becomes rotten with regret and secret resentment.” Hugh shrugged. “The host may have thanked the guest for slaying the dangerous relative on the day he was saved, but might, unreasonably, hate the guest a year later for the very same act. I perceive the people of these lands are akin to one great family. So are we from over the sea. And family feuds must remain within the families they pertain to, for this reason.”

    Hyarima nodded, and although he did not smile, he looked pleased, both with the agreement and Hugh. “You are wise for your years, O’Donnell. Your people are lucky to have such a cacique.”

    Hugh was preparing to wave off the compliment when O’Rourke interrupted. “We are. Our Lord O’Donnell is too modest to claim it.”

    “Of course,” Hyarima answered calmly. “That is why he has you to say it for him. This talk has been good. Next time, we shall have time for food and smoke.” He stood, nodded, and left.

    After which O’Rourke rounded on his earl. “Damn it, Hugh: you were set to shrug off your title again, if I hadn’t jumped in. Whatever happened to the cocky little rascal you started out?”

    “What happened, O’Rourke, was that I grew not only in size but in sense. Which included an accurate measure of my small place in the world, I might add.”

    “Well, perhaps it is time to re-measure that place, my earl. Besides, the sin o’ pride notwithstanding, too much humility is just not how things are done here. And you’re the one who was always reminding me, ‘when in Rome, do like the Romans.’ Or don’t you think these fellows are the local Romans?”

    Hugh looked into the slight parting of fronds that marked where Hyarima had disappeared into the green wall that skirted the base of the steep northern slopes. “Oh no, O’Rourke. They’re the Romans all right, no doubt about it. We exist here at their pleasure. And I hope it shall ever be thus.”

    The two men were silent as their guide returned and led them back to their horses. Behind, muskets began to sputter fitfully from atop the rude palisade around San José de Oruña.

    O’Rourke cocked an ear in that direction. “You took quite a chance back there, m’Lord. Regarding the fate of the Spanish, that is.”

    Hugh mounted the gelding in one fluid, annoyed motion. “Yes, for all the good it did.”

    “Seemed to have done a world of good for the women and children of this blasted island. And as for their men — well, I can’t wonder but that they haven’t richly earned what’s about to befall ’em. ‘Eye for an eye,’ as the saying has it.”

    “‘Let he amongst you who is without sin cast the first stone,'” Hugh retorted bitterly. “I won’t be consoling myself over the rightness of a massacre, O’Rourke. Even if it’s restricted to males old enough to at least have some fuzz on their chin.”

    “Aye, but it’s not as though you’ve much cause for remorse either. Let alone time in which to feel it. We’re to be under way for St. Eustatia as soon as we can.”

     Hugh grimaced. “Where, I suspect, Tromp will rake me over the coals for promising to evacuate almost two hundred civilians from Port-of-Spain and San José de Oruña. And Cantrell might help him singe my toes.”

    “Ah, well, I’m not so sure of that,” temporized O’Rourke. “Tromp is a pretty decent sort of fellow. Decent for a heathen Dutchman, that is.” O’Rourke grinned. “And Cantrell — well, if memory serves, m’Lord, it was you who remarked that most of the up-timers feel a great regret over what their ancestors did to the natives of the New World. I’d think that your making a pact with the Nepoia that saved lives, rather than took ’em, might be pleasing to our young up-time friend.”

    Hugh shrugged. “It would be a blessing if you’re right, O’Rourke.” O’Donnell spurred his horse lightly. “Let’s make sure we’re aboard to catch the evening breeze,” he urged.

    And let’s get out of here before the massacre begins. 

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