From The Serpent’s Knee ~ Chapter Seven

Discussion in 'Inspiring Novelists' started by Kit Carson, May 19, 2008.

  1. Kit Carson

    Kit Carson
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    Jun 9, 2007
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    From April into May, unseasonably hot, dry weather scorched the country. Even in the Cumberland Mountains, vegetation was searing, springs low. Longsdorf cursed the heat, riding barewaisted although his sunburns were painful. They met military details near the Georgia line; chiefly, the men were dragoons and short term militiamen, ordered to assemble with General Winfield Scott’s force on the Hiwassee river. From these troopers, Rodney learned that only four hundred odd Cherokees, under Major Ridge and Chief Stand Watie, had gone west voluntarily. The rest had rejected Scott’s ultimatum.

    “Don’t the beggars understand they can’t stand up to an army? I thought your people were more civilized.”

    Rodney flushed at Longsdorf’s words. “That is the trouble,” he said. “Being civilized by white men, they still expect a last hour reprieve.”

    “That is bad. Will your friend of the Cherokee Guard keep neutral when Scott moves in?”

    “They will obey orders of Chief Ross.”

    “Looks like we might stumble into some fighting.” Longsdorf was interested. “A few hundred light horsemen could keep Scott busy quite a while.”

    A few hundred! Scott was assembling eight thousand men. Gilmer could send half that many from Georgia, if necessary. Rodney did not argue. Five hundred armed Cherokees would be wiped out in a short campaign.

    Roads inside the Nation seemed deserted. There was little travel. Before they reached Elijay, Longsdorf was making sly digs about the lack of Cherokees.

    Running Otter and two other Guardsmen were on patrol near Elijay. Running Otter welcomed Rodney, apparently not surprised at his return. The other Cherokees remained aloof, studying Longsdorf covertly. “Stewart Longsdorf,” Rodney introduced. “An Englishman, and my blood brother.”

    “You are welcome.” Running Otter turned his horse around. “I ride back with you,” he said. “You know of the soldiers on the Hiwassee?” Rodney said he did. “Scott has given us until the next full moon. We ride from town to town, and always the elders smile and tell us they will stay.”

    “Surely they won’t resist?”

    “Some will. We have word that two thousand Cherokees have reached the overhills of North Carolina. Many of our young men are riding there for a stand.” Running Otter added that several younger guard members had deserted for the overhills resistance group.

    When they reached Elijay, Kell was about to send a messenger for West. Little Stick, Kell’s twelve year old son, was sick. “I am afraid the missionary has gone clear to Willstown, and no doctor is nearer.”

    “The Englishman who rode with me knows medicine, Twotoes. He cured my infection. You can trust him.”

    “I trust you, Attalla. The one to convince is Osahnee.”

    Little Stick had dysentery. Longsdorf treated him with an opiate. “Say nothing about this,” he told Kell. “I brought few drugs, chiefly for my own benefit.”

    Rodney learned that Tresa and the Raven were still at the Gunaski home. At the cabin Kell had lent them, Longsdorf was excited. “There is talk of a blue woman. she is not a myth.”

    “Who did you talk with?” Rodney knew none of the men would gossip with a stranger, save from some whimsical urge to spin a fantastic yarn. Longsdorf said he had talked with Tunanya. “No Cherokee has seen her face, but she has caused a half dozen plantations to be burned.”

    Rodney went to Tunanya, talking with a group before the trading post. “The Englishman Longsdorf is my brother, Tunanya. You should speak only the truth to his.”

    I have told him no lies, Attalla. Why do you say that?”

    “The blue woman. Burning out plantations.”

    Tunanya went to counting on his fingers. “Near Willstown. Echota. Dahlonega. Black men armed, faces and bodies painted. It has happened, Attalla.”

    Rodney’s estimation of Longsdorf climbed another point. “Does anyone mention the name Servila?” he inquired.

    “I have heard the name, yes.” Tunanya faced him, arms folded. “Your Englishman is a warrior. I feel it and wonder if that is why you brought him.”

    “Longsdorf is tired of the white man’s cities.”

    “He wants to speak our tongue. He has good whiskey.”

    “And he wants to know more about this strange blue woman? Would you talk with Longsdorf tomorrow, while I go to Gunaski’s home?”

    Tunanya promised, a bit eagerly. There would be good whiskey drunk, Rodney thought.

    The missionary had stopped by the Gunaski home, Tresa informed him. She was not surprised at his return. Nor was the Raven. Tresa had been working in the garden and she was proud of her early things. She had sowed a patch of indigo that morning, in time for autumn dyeing of cotton. Rodney asked about Nancy Alder. “She was not with the missionary.” Tresa seemed reluctant to add details. It was not until they went to the spring that she asked him about Ailsa Chatfield. “We are not going to marry,” Rodney answered. “That is all I want to say.”

    Tresa’s large eyes gleamed with mischief. “You lost your lands, and that is all I going to say.”

    “I am here with an Englishman for the summer, Tresa. You are not preparing to move?”

    “Move where? As long as the Raven lives, she will stay here. Why should she go away?”

    “The soldiers are coming. Twotoes knows. All the Cherokee Guard knows of the great force in Tennessee. You have heard the message Scott sent through the Nation.”

    “How many times have we been told to leave? Has not John Ross saved us each time? You talk to The Owl. Even the missionary. The soldiers will not force us from our homes.”

    Rodney let the matter drop. There must be another way to convince Tresa and the Raven. He found himself talking about Ailsa after all. When he told of the meeting at the camp ground, Tresa cried. “The poor girl. Attalla, I think she loves you.”

    “Pity. I deserve that too. I was ashamed of my birthright ~ one half of me. It is better that it is settled forever.”

    After that, Tresa was less reserved. They walked, hand in hand, along remembered paths. Their talk was of the old days. Rodney told her of the name Longsdorf had given him. “Rodney Attalla? I like that. You will come back soon?”

    He kissed her. “I plan to stay in Elijay several weeks. You do not believe the reason, but in time you will.”

    “Meaning we are to be moved?” Rodney nodded. “Then I won’t be afraid, if you are close.”

    Rodney had mounted when Tresa, silent for minutes, spoke. “She has more arms, Attalla.”

    “She…who?”

    “The one I call Servila. she no longer arms slaves, but Cherokees. The young men.”

    “This time I will talk with Twotoes.” Tresa made no objection.

    Longsdorf and Tunanya had not returned when Rodney reached Kell’s trading post. Little Stick was up, weak but feeling much better. Kell had received a wagon of clothing and blankets. Rodney sat on a counter as his friend stacked articles. “Tresa spoke of the blue woman, Twotoes. The one they call Servila.”

    Kell paused. “She has been to Gunaski’s house?”

    “Tresa didn’t say. Only that she had a new shipment of guns. And that she was arming Cherokees too. Young ones.”

    “I had heard,” Kell admitted. “The woman is dangerous to us. The Georgia militia has not blamed us so far. If they hear of this new move, they will raid every section. Tell me, Attalla, do you think that Tresa really knows the woman?”

    “I am with conflicting opinions. Without doubt Tresa has seen her. But masked.”

    “And you…even in the darkness, you should have some idea of her?”

    “Gentle fingers and a man’s strength. That I know. Her face, figure, I can only guess. She spoke in whispers.”

    “In what tongue?”

    “Cherokee.”

    Kell went back to his task. “I wish we had a way of reaching her. Some trusted man like, say Running Otter. But Running Otter might become a follower. He talks now of going to the overhills.”

    “That has been in Running Otter’s mind a long time, Twotoes. I have in mind someone, not young, not exactly old. The Englishman.”

    “Longsdorf. A stranger to this country?”

    “I do not believe he would have come if I hadn’t mentioned the blue woman. He grew excited. It has been on his mind ever since.”

    Kell thought that over. “We know of the woman’s activities. As long as she dealt with slaves, helping them run away, we kept neutral. Attalla, rumors of arming our young men have been passed to the Council often lately.

    “Someone has the run of the Nation, plotting beneath our very noses,” Kell said. “We believe the woman is an instrument, not the leader. You are going to stay with us this summer?” When Rodney said he was, Kell joined him on the counter. They were alone in the gloomy, log building. “My thought was of you, not the Englishman.”

    Rodney laughed. “You might as well choose Longsdorf.”

    “You speak our tongue. People in all our towns remember The McIvor.”

    “Then let Longsdorf and me try.”

    “I could not even speak to The Owl, Attalla. This must be between us and my leaders.”

    “I will talk with Longsdorf when he returns.”

    Rodney was worried. Long after children grew quiet and outside fires were covered with ashes, Rodney waited. He believed he knew the answer; Longsdorf and Tunanya were on a spree.

    Trees outside the cabin were visible in the dawn when Longsdorf arrived, humming softly. He paused when Rodney sat up on his pallet. “You should have gone with us,” Longsdorf said. He was sober. “I met the woman in the blue mask.”

    “Where…where and how?”

    “Elementary. I had a guide. Quite a person. Speaks English well.” Longsdorf proceeded to remove his clothing. “Miles and miles of riding. Hard riding. Hard as steel.”

    “The woman? You saw her face?”

    “Of course not. I’m on probation. Trouble with your people, Rodney Attalla, is lack of leadership. Servila has it. She’ll do. Plans to join up with a chief in the mountains. Cholla…something like that.”

    “Tsala. Stewart, you’ve found her. Now let her go her way. Take my advice.”

    “I’m going to sleep,” Longsdorf said. “Man, she’s a woman I want. By the way…” Longsdorf sank to his pallet with a grunt,”…she knows you.”

    Tresa! It couldn’t be.

    Now I must act alone for Kell. I must be on the side of authority, against my best friend.

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