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Council of Fire: Chapter Twenty Two

       Last updated: Wednesday, October 16, 2019 18:55 EDT



I saw nothing but mist and darkness

Fort Johnson, Colony of New York


    Joseph Brant had been dozing in a window-seat on the second floor of Sir William Johnson’s handsome stone house. The sun streaming in through the glass panes had pulled him into quiet dreams–but he could not quite remember them, as the pain in his hands returned to his notice while the dream-threads slipped away.

    He sat up to see Sir William Johnson standing before him, a roll of parchment in his hands, obviously intent on showing him something. He was leaning over in order to do so, and Joseph could see his sister Molly behind Johnson looking over his shoulder. She had a concerned look on her face, although that wouldn’t have been evident to people who didn’t know her as well as her brother did.

    Joseph sat up, shaking off sleep.

    “You did not hear me call, I see. Well, no matter. Sleep is no doubt good for you.” Johnson looked at Joseph’s bandaged hands, then back at his face. “How are you feeling?”

    “It hurts less than it did.”

    “I told the Tadodaho you would receive better care here in my house than beside the Council Fire, and so you have. You will be using that bow of yours in no time.”

    “You are very generous, Elder Brother,” Joseph said. “You said . . . you were calling me?”

    “Yes. I wanted to ask you a few questions about your vision.”

    Joseph knew very well which vision: it was the one he had had just after the Konearaunehneh had appeared and he had tugged away the cord that held it to the earth. Unlike most dreams before or since, that had not left him . . . the world, a great oval, spread out before him as clearly as a view from a high mountain peak.

    Johnson beckoned to him and he rose and followed to a great table in the hall, a single slab of wood cut from some mighty tree, smoothed and polished so that it shone with reflected light from the windows. His sister followed behind them. Johnson unrolled the parchment to show a large and highly detailed map of the continents, stretching from the sketched-in lands of the far north to the unknown places of the south, marked with dozens of annotations in Johnson’s own hand. He weighted the parchment down at the corners with Molly’s help and then stood upright, looking over the document.

    “Where did the land end, Joseph?”

    “There was a range of high mountains at the edge of the sea,” Joseph said, pointing to the Atlantic Ocean. He clumsily drew a line with a finger while trying not to rub his bandaged hand across the map. He started east of the lands of the Abenaki (where the map showed schools of fish) and passed southward as far as the great bulge on the east side of the southern continent. “And another on the other side.”

    He was more vague about that, as he knew nothing of the actual geography on the west side of the continent. No one did, so far as Joseph knew, among either the Haudenosaunee or any their neighboring tribes. But he moved his finger from north to south out in the ocean, as he remembered what he saw there in his vision.

    Johnson peered closely at the map as Joseph pointed. “Are you sure about this, Joseph? It’s very important.”

    “I am not totally sure, Sir William. It was a dream and it was . . .”

    “Yes. Of course. It appears as if Acadia is on this side of these mountains, and so is Jamaica, and the Leeward Islands . . . this chain of islands, Joseph: did you see them in your dream?”

    “I think so. The mountains were further out to sea. But I can’t be sure.”

    Johnson continued to stare at the map, his brow furrowed in concentration.

    “Sir William, why is that important? One little group of islands–”

    “Because, young brave,” Johnson said, straightening up and arranging his vest, “that little group of islands–Jamaica, and even more especially Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Barbados–are the richest pieces of land in the world because they are covered with sugar plantations. That is the backbone of the economy of the French, as well as the British, Empire. Who holds them holds the purse-strings of the world.”

    “So is it better that they are in the part of the world we can see, or worse because your land-across-the-water can no longer reach them?”

    “That,” Johnson answered, “is a very interesting question. Which is more important, that we have sugar for our tea, or that London does not?”

    “If there even is a London anymore,” said Molly, sounding skeptical.

    Her husband frowned at her. “If there is . . . what do you mean? Beyond the mountains–”

    “Beyond the mountains, Sir William,” interjected Joseph, “I saw nothing but mist and darkness. I saw no London, I saw no Africa where the black slaves come from–or Cathay on the other side, for that matter. All I saw was what lay between the mountains. The entire world.”

    “It was a dream only,” Johnson managed by way of reply.

    “Of course,” Joseph said. “But if it was no more than a dream, why does it trouble you so much, Sir William? Why is it so important that I am sure what I saw–if it was just a dream?”



    A decade and a half before, Sir William Johnson had built his great house on the land that King Hendrick had given him–and, to hear the Iroquois tell it, the story of how it came to him proved that Johnson put great store in dreams–and also why they held him in such high esteem.

    Hendrick Theyanoguin, the old Mohawk chief and diplomat, had visited Johnson at his much more modest home in Warrenburgh years ago; and while there, he had seen a beautiful scarlet coat that he very much admired. In the morning, he told Johnson that he had dreamed that he possessed the coat and did not hesitate to tell his host of the fact.

    “Ah,” Johnson was said to have replied. “Do not dreams come from the Great Spirit?” Hendrick readily agreed, and received the gift of the coat, which made him very happy, and it was much admired by his people.

    Sometime later, Johnson visited the old sagamore in Caughnawaga, the richest part of the Mohawk lands. In the morning, after he had slept in Hendrick’s home, he told the Mohawk chief that he had had a dream in which he possessed nearly all of that land. Hendrick was surprised by this declaration, but Johnson retorted: “Do not dreams come from the Great Spirit?”

    It was said that Hendrick pondered for some time, looking for a way to escape the snare that his avarice had set for him–but in the end he had to admit that Johnson was right, and was no simple white man to be gullied. At last he said, “Yes, brother, the land is yours–but you must have no more such dreams!”

    The one dream had been enough, and Johnson had built his great stone house high on a hill, with a sawmill and other outbuildings nearby. When the war began a few years earlier, he had built a palisade around it, giving it more the appearance that the title suggested–Fort Johnson. It had come to be the gathering place for war councils for those natives who supported the British crown.




    Skenadoa had helped escort Joseph from Onondaga to Fort Johnson as soon as he was recovered enough to walk. To the young native, every sense seemed enhanced, every perception sharpened as he traveled across the land toward Johnson’s home. Birdsong, tree signs, and even the way in which the sun filtered through the forest canopy seemed to hold new and special significance. When they reached Fort Johnson, the older man had remained for a time and then took his leave of the great house, traveling west to see what he could learn.

    Joseph had always been skilled at tracking and following trail-sign; among his tribe and clan he was highly regarded. But this was new and different–something had happened when he had confronted the Konearaunehneh. Perhaps he had been chosen by the Great Spirit and would now be a shaman rather than a warrior–a prospect he dreaded. Shamans did not run along trails or hunt in the woods. Prophesying and visions were for old men.

    Except . . . he had experienced a vision. And nothing ordinary, like the coming of rain or the quality of the hunt–it was a vision of the whole world and its boundaries, with only mist and darkness beyond.



    “This is healing up nicely,” Molly Brant said, carefully wrapping a clean bandage around Joseph’s right hand. When her brother didn’t answer, she said, “Are you listening to me?”

    Joseph had been daydreaming, seeing the vision again in his mind, and watching motes of dust drift through a strand of sunlight coming in through the window.

    “Of course I’m listening to you.”

    “It didn’t seem that way.” Molly smiled, and Joseph, as always, was put in mind of how beautiful his sister was. She spoke and dressed like a European but had the features of an Iroquois–and that was important, especially now, since she carried Sir William’s child. She was just starting to show, but it clearly did not keep her from the many household tasks that she performed and oversaw for him. “You were lost in your dreams.”

    “I keep thinking of my vision. Sir William questioned me about the edges of the land . . . I’d never thought that the land had edges–that the Great Water went on and on until it reached the white man’s home.”

    “The land, and the water, is on a great globe. You know that. If you travel beyond the lands of Europe and across–I don’t know, Russia or Cathay, you come to another great water, and then around to where you started. The English have done that, sailing their great ships all around.”

    “That’s not what I saw.”

    “You had a fever, something to do with the attack of the . . .” she placed her hand on her belly and lowered her voice. “Konearaunehneh,” she said, as if she were trying to make sure that her unborn child did not hear the word. “Who is to say what your mind may have imagined?”

    “So you don’t think it’s a true vision. Is that what you’re saying?”

    “I don’t know,” she said, tying the bandage in place. “I don’t know quite what to say about it. It is all beyond me, matters for men of science or shamans or some such thing. Who believes that the world can change from the way the Great Spirit made it? Do you?”

    “I don’t know either. I only know what I saw,” Joseph said, standing up. He placed his hands gently on his sister’s shoulders. “And I believe it came from the Great Spirit, and it is the way that the world really looks now. Sir William thinks it is a true seeing also.”

    “He does not believe in the Great Spirit, Joseph, no matter what he says to the sachems of the Haudenosaunee. Why would he think this now?” She gently shrugged off Joseph’s hands and picked up a cloth, wiping her own. “Get well and rest, then go home. The world hasn’t changed.”

    “The Konearaunehneh–”

    “Have always been there, in the darkness, waiting to invade the world of men. This is a time of war, Joseph–it must have smelled blood.”



    When Skenadoa returned to Fort Johnson, he was not alone. Joseph and Molly Brant and Sir William Johnson watched as two dozen Indians–men, women and children–walked between the stone gateposts into the front yard of the house. They were burdened with possessions and accompanied by animals–they had come to Fort Johnson to stay, at least for a while.

    They were not the first such refugees. By now, somewhere on the order of two hundred people had gathered in the shelter provided by Fort Johnson. Most of them were crowded into the compound itself, but others clustered against its wooden palisade. The majority were Mohawks, but not all. There were Onondagas, Oneidas and Tuscaroras there too, and even one small group of Hurons.

    The Hurons–or Wyandot, as they were also called–spoke an Iroquoian language but were traditionally hostile to the Six Nations. Something very frightening must have happened to drive them to seek refuge in Mohawk lands.

    Skenadoa gestured to the others and walked forward. Sir William stepped off the porch and into the yard, where the two men consulted quietly for a short time.

    Johnson turned and called into the house; three servants appeared, and he gave orders to assist the natives in settling onto the grounds. Then, without a word to Joseph or Molly, he walked into the house.

    Skenadoa stood alone in the yard, gazing up at the sky as if there were answers to questions hidden there. Joseph walked up to him, and the older man looked down.

    “What is happening?”

    “There are more of them,” Skenadoa said. “Out there.” He gestured westward, the direction from which he had come. “Flying Heads, and worse. They have heard the call, and they answer.”

    “Heard the call? What do you mean?”

    “When the world changed, young brave,” Skenadoa answered, “things awoke from their sleep. Many things. They had no goal other than to darken the sky and frighten . . . but a strong man could harness those things to his purpose.

    “Sir William has an enemy toward the sunset,” he added. “A runner came to their village–” he gestured toward the people in the yard who had recently arrived–“and told them that since they had taken up the calumet with Warraghiyagey, they no longer belonged to the land.”

    “So they came here,” Joseph said. “For protection from . . .”

    “The strong man.”

    “Does the strong man have a name?”

    Skenadoa spat, a deliberate gesture. “I will not speak it here, but yes, it is a name that Warraghiyagey–‘Chief Big Business’–knows well.”

    “One of our people?”

    “A Seneca.” The westernmost people of the Confederation–the “guardians of the Western Door”–had long been inclined toward the French rather than the English. They were fierce and independent.

    “Does he speak for all of the Seneca people?”

    “No one opposes him, at least now. Whether all will come when he calls–it depends on what he offers or if they fear him. With Flying Heads at his command, they might fear him a great deal. But there is one thing that is certain, young brave.”

    “What is that?”

    “The Covenant Chain is broken. Now let us go in and see what ‘Chief Big Business’ has to say.”

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