April 1814: At dawn he dreamed of tiny pale men crawling like grubs under the loose scaling bark of a tree, innumerable, expendable—the english words rang in his head, scrawling over the dream a new layer of meaning, though by the time Lamochattee opened one eye he had forgotten it completely. A round black eye, smaller than his own, regarded him. Lamochattee turned and flexed the fingers of one hand against the ground, and the groundhog, dismayed by how close to him it had carelessly grazed, flopped awkwardly away to crash into cover alongside the creek.
Lamochattee laughed silently, holding the bubbles of laughter down in his belly. The spring air was full of early birdsong and the sound of the creek’s purling. Yards away on his long tether, the black horse Arrow cropped at the grass. Lamochattee rolled quietly to his feet, orienting himself to the dark trunks of oaks and poplars that filled the copse where he had slept, damp with the morning mist swirling up around them.
The mist was heaviest along the snake bends of the creek. Lamochattee padded barefoot toward the bank. A crack alerted him and he turned, half crouching, a hand on the horn hilt of the knife in his waistband, but it was only Arrow, breaking a dry branch with a hoof. There beside his sleeping hollow his rifle and bow lay as he had left them, wrapped in a pale painted deerskin against the dew. Lamochattee relaxed, stepped onto a fine gravel shoal in the creek bed, and scooped water in the cup of his two hands to drink. Beneath the ripple of his own reflection a tiny red salamander flicked from stone to stone across the current. Lamochattee raised his eyes. Beyond the brush and a tangle of sumac, another burned cornfield appeared from under the rising tendrils of the mist. The dream, though its image eluded him now, had decided his action for the day, which had in fact already been decided.
There was a bed of watercress in the next bend of the creek and he waded toward it, shin deep in the cold water. He pulled a clump, snapped off the roots, rinsed away dead leaves and a couple of water beetles, and chewed a few mouthfuls of peppery green, looking down into the water. Where he had disturbed the bottom a trail of silt dissipated downstream like smoke.
He rolled his deerskins, loosed Arrow’s tether, swung aside. He had lately sold his Spanish saddle with the silver fittings, along with his tooled riding boots, to buy corn and dried meat for the survivors of his people after Tohopeka. He rode now astride a worn striped blanket, shod in fringed moccasins that laced up his calf. A woman had made the moccasins and given them to him before he left Hoithlewalee.
The sun, just clearing the low rise to the east, gilded the last wraiths of mist as they evaporated, and picked out the ground cover in brilliant green among the trees. Lamochattee watched a red fox stalking a partridge; he pounced, missed it—the whole covey burst up from the ground with a whir and white humming of wings. The little fox composed himself and walked away, high-stepping and waving the white tip of his tail, as if he never really cared for partridge at all. Lamochattee took a handful of parched corn from a buckskin bag and chewed it slowly, then followed it with a smaller mouthful of pemmican.
He could hear a scouting party of the Tennessee soldiers a half-mile ahead of him, hushing each other stentoriously as they bashed their way through the brush. Lamochattee left the trail and circled well away from them, riding through the light of the morning sun that slanted through the slim poles of a vast forest of pine. On the carpet of needles Arrow’s hooves went softly as a cat’s paws. In an hour’s time, when he began to hear to the west the rush of the falls at the Devil’s Staircase, he turned the horse’s head back toward the river.
By noon he’d reached Wetumpka, the place of roaring waters. He tethered his horse to a white pine tree and climbed on foot to the top of the mound built by the Lost People of the unremembered time. The place had been overgrown for hundreds of years so its shape was disguised, but after only a few minutes mounting on a spiral path the smooth symmetry of the hemisphere reminded him this was no natural hill. To reach the top he had to work his way through a patch of blackberries, tough thorny stems tossing white with their blossoms, but the summit was a clean grassy curve. He lay down where he believed the sacred house had been and put one ear to the ground. In the open ear was the endless descent of the Devil’s staircase and in the closed one he could hear something like the earth’s own heartbeat and he remained in that posture until the two sounds merged to one.
He lay facedown with his palms pressed into the grass of the mound and prayed. When he had finished he sat back on his heels and looked out over the river. The wind came up and stirred the feathers in his black hair; he shut his eyes and felt the power of the wind.
The fort the Tennessee soldiers were rebuilding was no more than an arrow shot to the south, and though it was hidden by the trees now come into leaf he could see half a dozen buzzards wheeling over it on their tatter-tipped black wings. In the opposite direction he spotted a red-tail hawk flying alone, which encouraged him more. He found his horse at the foot of the mound and rode in that direction.
He was passing along the remains of a snake-rail fence, its row grown up with big cedars, when a flicker of movement or some small sound snagged his attention. Dismounting softly, bow in his left hand, he plastered himself against the hairy bark of a tree. In the wasted field beyond, a four-point buck raised his head and looked at Lamochattee with strange pale eyes, and the deer was white all over its hide and hair, as white as cotton or snow.
He withdrew behind the cedar tree, shaking his head. He had spent too long in the place of the Lost People, maybe, because he would not see this white buck for many years yet, and that day would be the eve of his own death. When he looked again, there were ordinary brown deer grazing on the green shoots just coming up through the ash and the burnt corn stubble. Two bucks, four does, and a trio of spotted fawns.
His powder was short, and he thought better to make little noise. He dropped the larger buck with an arrow placed behind the shoulder, and watched the others bound toward the horizon, white tails brightly flagging. When he had dressed the deer he noticed a tail feather of the hawk which had dropped into the stubble not far from his kill, and he picked it up and stuck it with the others in his black hair.
As he rode toward the fort his thoughts coalesced into words and more and more the words were english. Long ago he had learned this language, along with French and a dose of Spanish, in order to improve his command of Mvskoke and win his war-name Hopnicafutsahia, the Straight-Talker. At the fort it would be necessary to speak in english to Eslafkv Fvske, Sharp Knife.
The wvcenv were still rebuilding the fort. Teams of starved men did the work of oxen, rolling great logs sharpened like stakes to jut up from the outer earthworks. Now in the late morning it was warm and the men were hot and breathless in their woolen clothes; some wore rags of old Continental uniforms. Only a couple paused to glance up at him, incuriously as he rode by, with eyes more for the magnificent horse than for him—or the fat deer slung across Arrow’s rump.
The wooden gates to the palisade hung open, as they had done at Fort Mims. Lamochattee rode toward the opening, head floating high on the top of his spine. No sentry challenged him. Well, but Sharp Knife had treacherous Mvskoke scouts who could tell him there was no Red Stick war party near. In fact there was no Red Stick war party anywhere. A piece of paper was pinned to the gate of the fort with a hand-cut iron nail, and Lamochattee pulled his horse up for a moment to regard it. He saw, with many squigglings between them, the english representation of his own name, and also the two words fort mims, but he understood no more than that. He had always disdained reading and writing as wvcenv practices that weakened the spirit, although he had seen that this art aided them in signaling one another and also remembering. For all the languages he had mastered, he would not gain this other art. Let a talk go straight from mouth to ear and so to the head and heart behind it.
He squeezed the flanks of his horse and rode in—back straight, head high, his gaze just short of imperious. A Tennessee corporal looked up at him sharply and parted his lips as though he would challenge him, but Lamochattee had ridden past before any word could come out, and the corporal turned his back on him—there were enough Mvskoke traitors allied to this army that one could not expect to know them all on sight. Lamochattee’s head seemed to float, of a sudden, on the top of his spine, and there was a flicker of ghost movement behind his eyes, as though he were on the verge of a fit such as the Shawnee prophets used to throw, before the wvcenv soldiers killed most of them.
With an effort he brought his clear mind back into his head and knew the cause. General Marchand, who was husband to his great-grandmother the First Sehoy of the Wind, had died in this place when it had been the French Fort Toulouse, killed by his own soldiers in a mutiny. Here was his old ghost walking still. Lamochattee felt strengthened by it, which was well, because there was Big Warrior lounging against the canvas wall of a tent, rocking the front legs of the milking stool on which he squatted forward onto the ground as he called out rudely.
“Oh, Billy Weatherford, have we got you at last?”
Lamochattee halted the horse and turned. “You have got nothing,” he said, nostrils flaring. Though his mind had filled with the english discourse he meant to deliver to Sharp Knife when they met, he spoke now in tight whipping phrases of Mvskoke. “You will always have nothing. You are no hunter. You are no warrior, Tustenuggee Thloco,” he said, drenching the honor title in contempt as his mouth twisted it—“Tustenuggee Thloco, you have no right to such a name and ought instead to have kept always the name of your mother—she who should have killed you in the time after she bore you, when she had that right. I would be glad to finish the work she should have done, and put a bullet in your rotten heart—”
But his hands remained composed, resting lightly on the mane of his horse, though one of Big Warrior’s coward companions had cocked a musket to train on him. In fact Lamochattee, after dressing the deer, had hidden his weapons rolled in the deerskin in a hollow trunk of a tree, for he never intended to walk in a warlike manner into this place, and had kept only his powder horn and his short knife, the latter hidden discreetly on his person. He stared the man with the musket down.
There was silence, then a rustle of cloth, as a uniformed wvcenv unfolded himself from the tent’s opening like a jackknife. The click of a musket lock must have been louder to him than the harsh words spoken in Mvskoke, for the first thing he did was order the man to lower his weapon.
Lamochattee slipped down from his horse, and planted his moccasined feet on the ground, feeling the spring earth pulse through the thin leather behind the balls of his first feet. For the first time since he’d drunk from the creek at waking, he considered his own appearance. The buckskin leggings, ripped here and there, and a bobcat skin wrapped around his loins, the toothy head serving as a codpiece—it was a little warm for this garment, but the folds of it hid his knife.
He stood bare-chested, a fox-fur cape slung over his shoulders. No paint, though the red eagle feather jutted up with the others in his hair. He felt the other man taking him in, or cutting into him. The wvcenv general was absurdly tall, and thin as the knife blade that suggested for him that name. The frogging on his uniform jacket looked like the rickety ribs of a skeleton. His left arm had something the matter with it, Lamochattee sensed, hanging slack with the bony hand dangling, as if he could not easily raise it, like the wing of a hurt bird. Coarse red hair sticking up and brushed back away from the high pale forehead. His dark hard eyes, astonished at first, were sharpening with recognition, and at the same time they held a trace of the crazy glitter well-known in old mad jackson, which was the other name Mvskoke gave him.
“Who are you?” Old Mad Jackson said. But it was as if he already knew.
Though he was himself of no mean height, Lamochattee had to tilt his head slightly to look up at him. Another uniformed wvcenv came out through the tent flap, holding a sword still in its scabbard. With the sheathed weapon he gestured at the man of Big Warrior’s party who still held his cocked musket fixed on the back of Lamochattee’s head. Sullenly the man let the barrel follow his drifting eyes toward the ground.
“I brought you a deer,” Lamochattee said, speaking english, and turned his chin slightly toward the dressed carcass slung over the back of his horse. Old Mad Jackson’s lips parted slightly. He was not counting the points on the buck, Lamochattee thought. He was studying Arrow, the sleek black horse. The wvcenv chief was known to be a connoisseur of horseflesh. If they had met in some other way, Lamochattee might have raced and traded with him at Weatherford’s Bluff. But Jackson would also have heard of this particular horse. Perhaps even seen him at one of the fights, or when their men circled and scouted each other around Emuckfau Creek.
A hawk flew over the encampment, releasing its harsh cry. The same, maybe, who’d dropped the red feather that Lamochattee now wore in his hair.
“My name is William Weatherford,” he said. He opened both his hands and smiled. “I heard that you have been looking for me.”
There was a grumbling stir among the onlookers. More soldiers had come up to see what was happening. Lamochattee was still speaking english so they could plainly understand what he had said.
The wvcenv general’s thin lips were working. Pale bubbles appeared at one corner of his mouth. Lamochattee perceived that these manifestations were not entirely under Old Mad Jackson’s control. The injured left arm shivered at his side, then stilled. Lamochattee watched the general mastering himself. When he spoke, his voice was hard, but calm.
“You dare,” he said. “You—who butchered the women and children of Fort Mims—you dare to appear before me this way.”
I killed no women or children at Fort Mims or anywhere else, Lamochattee thought. But it had been done by the men he had led there. Sorrow weakened him for a moment. He had to fight not to let it show. There were holes through the flats of his moccasins and he made himself aware how the power that grew in trees was entering the soles of his feet, how it ran through his legs to boil in his belly and shot up his spine to hold his head high, so that he still was strong.
“You are walking on the heart-ground of my people,” he said finally. “I have more right to be here than you.”
True: here was the all-bones wvcenv who had driven himself, like a nail, into this bend of the three rivers, heart of the Wind Clan and Hickory Ground. He watched the blue burning of Jackson’s eyes. There was anger there, and astonishment too, and something else—a kind of pleasure, but not the vindictive pleasure of one who tramples an enemy under his iron-shod heel. It was a little the same as what Jackson showed when he looked at Arrow, but now for something more than a horse.
“If you had been brought to me bound hand and foot as I asked,” Jackson said, “—as I ordered—” He looked with plain anger around at his men. “Why then, I should have known what to do with you.” For a moment it seemed he was going to laugh. “But now—”
Big Warrior, the earlier insults still wedged in his craw, chose this moment to fling himself forward, thrusting an iron knife. Lamochattee limbered his arms but made no other move to defend himself. The other uniformed wvcenv knocked down Big Warrior’s knife with his sheathed sword.
Kill him, Kill him. First a couple of separate shouts and then a chant that ran all around the circle. It put him in mind of General Marchand, killed by his own soldiers here in this place, when the fort was known as Fort Toulouse. The cause of the mutiny had been trivial, as much as anyone remembered it—some dispute over a shortage of supplies. It astonished Lamochattee that wvcenv soldiers could be so weak as to kill their own chiefs for such slight reason. That they could fall into this kind of madness for the want of their accustomed food. Now he recalled that something similar had happened to Old Mad Jackson during the past winter, when he was on his way to fight the Red Stick Mvskoke. He had stood down every man in his army, alone and with only a musket that turned out later to be broken.
“Be silent,” Jackson said to his men now, and the chanting—Kill him!—ceased.
“Bound or unbound,” Lamochattee said in english, “General Jackson, I am in your power all the same. You may do with me what you will. I am a warrior. I am a soldier for my nation, as the men you have brought to this place are soldiers for yours. Now, I have done the white people all the harm that I could. If I had an army I would fight you still, and to my own last breath, but I have none—my soldiers are gone. My people are gone. I can do no more than mourn the ruin of my nation.”
The hawk circled again overhead, crying bitterly, it seemed, and Lamochattee thought that something must be wrong with him, but the thought was so deep in his mind he was not really aware of it. He was more conscious of the ring of soldiers at his back, who hung upon his english words, and the Mvskoke who had become enough like wvcenv that they understood what he was saying too. He looked at the ground, packed hard with soldiers’ boot-heels, the land Old Mad Jackson and his soldiers had penetrated, remembering how at certain seasons of the year his grandmother, the Second Sehoy, would lament how her father was killed by wvcenv in this place. Sehoy was only a little girl when it happened, and Lamochattee, such a small child himself when he heard her grieving he had not yet his name, had been puzzled because it seemed to him that General Marchand, being a full-blood Frenchman, must also be a wvcenv, the same as the men who had killed him.
“General Jackson, I am not afraid of you,” he said. “I am a Mvskoke warrior. I fear no man. I ask you nothing for myself; you may kill me if you desire. No!—I ask you for one favor only. If you will, that it be done by your own hand. You will not give me to these that call themselves Mvskoke here, whom you have tamed so that like dogs they gather at your gate to beg your offal.”
Big Warrior glared, gingerly rubbing his wrists (the officer’s blow had maybe sprained one of them) and the murmuring of the tame Mvskoke grew louder. Old Mad Jackson quelled them with a glance.
“Indeed,” Lamochattee said, “the survivors of my nation are not much different now except in their pride, which is still strong, but they have nothing but their pride. Their fields and their storehouses are destroyed by war and your soldiers have driven them into the woods without an ear of corn. I have come to beg you to send for the women and children who are now starving in the woods. I hope that you will send out parties to bring them safely here, that they may be fed.”
He stopped, knowing what Jackson must certainly be thinking now. He had prepared an answer which he knew was insufficient, it being insufficient to himself.
“General Jackson, I came to Fort Mims to kill men, to kill warriors. I did all in my power to forbid the killing of women and children there, to prevent it and to stop it once it had begun. That I failed will dog me the rest of my days. That shadow will be my garment on the day that I die. I am done with fighting now. The Red Stick soldiers are nearly all killed. If I could fight you any more I would do it gladly. Only send for the women and children—they never did you any harm. But kill me, if your people want it done.”
Kill him! Kill him! The chant was louder than before. Jackson raised a palm to calm it.
“Who kills so brave a man as this would shame the dead.”
The men, Mvskoke and wvcenv alike, regarded him with dumb astonishment. Jackson did not appear to attend to them further. Turning his back, Jackson lifted the flap of his tent.
“Pray, come into my quarters, sir, and we’ll discuss the matter.”
Lamochattee lowered his head to enter. In the dim interior he could first make out wooden chairs and a table strewn with the wvcenv writing materials. The officer with the sheathed sword had followed them in; he seated himself and lifted a feather pen.
Jackson, who must stoop more deeply to enter, thought of something and thrust his narrow head back out through triangle of light at the tent flap. To one of his sergeants he called out, “See that Mr. Weatherford’s horse is fed and watered and well tended. And I want that venison shared out fairly!”
“General,” said the strange savage standing in the tent, “Had I but thought, I would have cut the loin from that deer, for your own table.” His right hand flickered at his hip, then stilled. “Give me a moment—I will do it now.”
So he had a knife hid on him somewhere, Jackson thought, under the bobcat pelt that hung from his waistband, toothy head and all. But never mind—the man was no assassin, whatever else he was. Hard to credit this could be the bloody Red Eagle, butcher of Fort Mims. There was an air of command about him, certainly. He stands there like he owns what he’s standing on, Jackson thought.
“Better not,” he heard himself saying. “You’ll get them all riled up again, if you show yourself so soon.”
There was still commotion outside the canvas, though it seemed to be receding. Jackson’s orders for disposition of the deer the Red Stick chief had gifted him were being followed, he’d have guessed, and Major Reid had called up a handful of sentries to disperse the grumblers from the doorway. Exchanging a glance with Reid now, he said to the man before him, “Take a seat, why don’t you?”
Reid unfolded another campstool and Red Eagle, Bill Weatherford—whoever he was—settled himself onto it, light as a cat. Jackson sat down at the corner of the writing table, crossing his long legs for an appearance of ease he didn’t feel. He was beginning to see through the costume now. If you gave the man a suit of clothes, threw out those feathers and trimmed his hair, he wouldn’t only pass for a white man, he would actually be a white man, of the same stock as Jackson’s own. And the properness of the English he spoke was altogether remarkable.
“Do I astonish you so much,” Red Eagle said, with a hint of a smile that forced Jackson to swallow his bile.
“It’s your effrontery, sir!” he blurted. “The gall of you—to walk in here like this, when every white man and half the Indians in the country are yelling for your head.”
“Is it so?” Red Eagle said. “I have been told that in your camp at the Ten Islands over the winter, you faced down your whole rebellious army with only a musket, and a broken one too. It would be hard to surpass that—for effrontery.”
Jackson clicked his teeth shut to stop himself gaping. Major Reid laid down his pen. “Some call it courage,” he remarked.
“All right,” Jackson said, at once feeling calmer. “We’ll call it courage, then.” But he was still staring, still at a loss for words.
“You wonder at my complexion, maybe,” Red Eagle was saying. “It was no gift when I was a boy—they called me Yellow Billy.”
“I will admit the thought crossed my mind,” Jackson said. “You might very well live as a white man, if you chose.”
“My father is a white man, yes,” Red Eagle said. “Charles Weatherford.”
Jackson nodded. “I have heard his name. A great horseman and breeder of horses, as I have been told.”
“It is so,” Red Eagle said. “But to begin at the beginning. My great grandmother, Sehoy of the Wind Clan, married a Frenchman, Louis Marchand, who was a general commanding in this place. When he confronted a rebellious army, General Jackson, he did not come off so successfully as you—his own men killed him, so his children were told, not far from where you are sitting now.”
Involuntarily, Jackson looked down at the packed dirt between the legs of his stool.
“From this union came my grandmother, the Second Sehoy of the Otalla Clan.”
“Would she not have been a French Marchand?”
“Not at all,” Red Eagle said. “Mvskoke people follow the line of the mother. It is one of our differences from you.
The Second Sehoy married Lachlan McGillivray, and bore him a son, Alexander, whose name you may also know—“
“I do indeed,” Jackson said—this Alexander McGillivray had been, in the previous generation, the chief liaison between Creeks and American settlers.
“Hoboi-Hili-Miko,” Red Eagle said. “Beloved Man of the Mvskoke. As for myself, I called him uncle. He was my mother’s brother, but only by half. It was a union of the Second Sehoy with a chief of Tuckabachee that produced the Third Sehoy of Ociapofa, where we are now—she who was my mother.”
“I see,” Jackson said. “Does she yet live?”
“We buried her not long ago,” Red Eagle said. “Not far, in fact, from the place you call Fort Mims.”
In the silence that followed Jackson glanced at Major Reid to see if he were getting it all down, but he didn’t seem to have lifted his pen since speaking of courage. Jackson made an effort to calculate the percentage of white blood in the man before him and found that he could not do it—it would have to be better than half though, he reckoned, and so—
How were you supposed to make sense of such people? They’d lie down with anyone, it looked like—niggers too, he’d heard of that—without any thought of the bloodlines. When he looked among them he could see it, too. But this son of Charles Weatherford would be half a Scot or maybe better, if he could remember the lineage well enough to make certain. Jackson’s mother, when he was just a lad, had teased him with the notion that the Scots in the old country in ages gone by used to run around bare naked with their bottoms painted blue—your greatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreatgrandfather, it might have been, and then she’d snap her dish clout at him to run him out of the kitchen.
A little wild blood would breed a good horse. And a hell of man too, it might be.
“Mister Weatherford,” Jackson said.
“I answer to that name.”
“With your breeding, sir, I wonder that you wouldn’t live as—as one of us.”
“As a white man, you mean. Well, my brothers have done it. I might have done it. I might yet. I know your language, and your manners well enough. I never cared to read or write, but there are plenty among your people who can’t do those things either.”
“So why, then—why, if you have a foot in either camp.”
“Why not run with the winning side?” Weatherford smiled, but distantly. “General Jackson, you are now at war with the English and their allies, as I well know. When Tecumseh came from the Lake Country I knew the British were behind him, though he meant what he said from his own heart as well, that we must unite to drive the white people out of our country once and for all. But I saw straight away that it would make a war among Mvskoke—you see as well as I how it has done so—and I saw as well that we could not win. And at the time I said it—I spoke against this war.”
“You are a powerful speaker, sir. How then—”
“As it happened a day came when I had to choose suddenly, so maybe I chose with my heart and not my head. My heart is bound to the land and the rivers and hills. Rabbits and deer and the green corn in summer. All this the wvcenv will take from us, and they will destroy it too, even for themselves before they are done, and my heart must have told me to fight against that, whether I would win or no.”
“You don’t seem like a man to make such a great decision all on the spur of the moment like that.”
“Don’t I,” Weatherford said. “Well, maybe there was never really a decision to make.”
“Can you see the future, then?”
“Yes. No. Not really. A flash of it sometimes. But there are some who say that everything which is to be has been already.”
He shifted his feet on the ground before him. Jackson noticed how very straight he sat all the time, but there was no stiffness in him. He couldn’t think why he had asked Weatherford such a question in the first place.
“Sam Mims,” Weatherford said, with a distant smile. “I think he was as much Mvskoke as me by his blood but he chose to live as a wvcenv.”
“I don’t understand the word you use.”
“It means white man as you would say.” Again the half-smile. “But first of all it meant Virginia. The first white men we saw, in any numbers, came from there. But now it is the Georgians, who keep coming.” He looked briefly at the tent flap, then directly at Jackson. “If things had gone differently in this war, I’d have grown my corn on one side of the Tallapoosa and fought the Georgians on the other bank—for as many seasons as it took to drive them out.”
“You were speaking of Sam Mims.”
“When I saw my warriors drag him out of his house I saw a white man. By his own choice, he had become wvcenv.”
“And was it you who murdered him, then?”
“By my own hand, no. But it was done, in part, because of me.”
“The slaughter of the innocents, then, which you deny?” Jackson felt he should have been angry, saying that—instead he felt a simple interest.
“No. I spoke against it before the fight, and I tried to stop it, as it began. My own warriors would have killed me to go on.”
“Is it so?” Jackson said. “I believe I would have died on the threshold, were I in such a case.”
“Yes.” Weatherford put a hand to the back of his head, cupping it under the craze of feathers there, as if it hurt from a shock or a blow. I lost someone dear to me there. Jackson felt that statement, oddly. But what the man said was merely, “There is another difference between you and me.”
He lowered his hand and briefly shook his head. “There is nothing so bitter, General, as war with your own people. But perhaps you know it, from your struggles with the British.”
“The British are not my people.” Jackson was near spitting as he spoke.
“Ah, but those settlers on the Tensaw, they were close to my own. I knew them, and was kin to many. I had a place with my first wife on the Little River, which is not far off, and we were often at Sam Mims’ house, before the trouble. Even Dixon Bailey was of the Wind Clan, as am I.”
“Captain Bailey whom you murdered?” Again the rage that should have been there wasn’t.
“He was a warrior and would have killed me if he could,” Weatherford said. “He fought to the end and he died with his arms in his hand.” He paused for a moment. “There were many hot for Dixon Bailey’s blood that day, and I among them. There were some bad things that happened at Burnt Corn, and he was blamed …. In any case, Mvskoke take vengeance to lay the ghosts of theirs who were slain. And the vengeance itself raises more of them.”
“Do you regret it then? To have killed…your clansman? What is this Wind Clan you speak of?”
“Oh,” said Weatherford. “Mvskoke say they came out of the ground. It is like your story of the Garden. Mvskoke wandered, blinded by fog, until Esakitaumessee, the Master of Breath, blew a breeze to send the fog away, and those who were first to see the sun became Otalla Clan. That is the story we tell ourselves.”
“You sound as if you don’t believe it.”
“Do you believe the stories the wvcenv religion tells?”
“What!” said Jackson, and then after a moment, “I don’t suppose I spend much time thinking about them.”
“So,” Red Eagle said. “Our stories are true but they are not all. A people lived before us in the places Mvskoke now claim. For a long time their dwellings have been covered by earth. On your way you have passed many. You ask me about the future, General, but what sometimes troubles me is not to know the past. Some say in the end the two are the same. I myself know there are days when the rivers run backwards. And I feel certain those hills are that earth out of which Mvskoke came. There are several hills like that upriver, just below the shoals, and another not a bowshot from where we sit now.”
Jackson said, without meaning to, “So this is a sacred place to you, then.”
“I thought you knew that.” For the first time since he had entered the tent, Red Eagle looked a little surprised. “I thought that’s why you came here.”
Jackson felt himself squinting. “I came because it’s where three rivers meet. It is a strategic place for war—”
“And a prosperous place in peace, as well. I’m sure Mvskoke came here for those reasons also.” With that, Red Eagle laughed out loud. “In that way, General, we are much the same as you.”