Ona’tah gripped her rifle tighter, and her finger hovered over the trigger. Just a little squeeze and she would rid Turtle Island of another filthy honio’on. Most honio’on were infidels because they didn’t follow the Creator’s Great Law of Peace, but in her opinion the French were worse than the British or the Dutch. They were servants of the Evil One.
Ona’tah had hunted since before she could remember and shot many deer, bears, and once a large cougar, but never before a man. This would be her first. Could she really do it? Even if only that of a honio’on, could she really take a human life? But, then she thought of what the French did to her village, and the terrible things they did to the Eagle Clan and her family. The French should all be killed.
Of course, the other soldiers would hear the shot and pursue her, but they would never catch her because her father had taught her too well. Anyway, honio’on were blind and moved like drunken skunks through the woods. The tall, broad shouldered man strolled towards her place of concealment, his white shirt unfastened. He wore no shoes or stockings and whistled an irritating tune. Her pulse raised, and she held her breath to steady her aim. Soon he would taste justice.
It wasn’t to be. She sighed, and lowered the barrel. The Great Creator, who created all that is good in the world, had cursed her, and so she could not take this honio’on’s life.
Late last night she’d come across the track of a large group of men travelling across Onon’dowaga territory. She’d known they were honio’on because they left a clear trail any five-year-old could have followed, which led down into a hidden ravine. This morning she’d scouted the French camp while their guards were sleeping, counting enough tents in the clearing for thirty men or more, with six mules to carry their baggage. Now this honio’on had entered the woods alone, presumably to relieve himself, and almost stumbled across her hiding place.
With black hair, dark skin, dressed in a green hunting shirt and buckskin leggings, she blended into the foliage. She suspected the honio’on wouldn’t spot her unless she moved. Perhaps not even then. Fortunately, Ona’tah had decided to wear her medicine bag the wrong way around across her stomach to hide the bright red and white bead stripe decoration. She placed her left hand over the bag in a protective manner, knowing the importance of the sacred artefact inside.
The honio’on halted a mere ten steps away in the shadow of a Tree of Peace. Ona’tah brushed the loose hair away from her hazel eyes to keep her vision clear. She gritted her teeth as he tugged down his breeches and then squatted right next to the sacred pine. Surely the Creator would forgive her if she ended this disrespectful man’s life. But, no, that cursed gift allowed her to read his aura all too well.
Her grandmother, now resting beside the Great Creator’s hearth, had called Ona’tah’s gift a blessing, a weapon for the Eagle Clan to use in the eternal battle against Hanisse’ono, but Ona’tah only saw it as a curse, trapped on this path and allowed little free choice. This unique gift was one of the three curses the Creator had placed upon the women of her family, a noble line that could be traced back to the first Head Clan Mother Jigon’sahseh who had stood beside the prophet and Haiyo’wentha at the dawn of the Ganung’sisne’ha. Even the most powerful men and women of the Ganung’sisne’ha medicine societies could not match the magic the Creator had granted her family. When Ona’tah was a child, the auras had appeared faint, as easily ignored as flies around a freshly killed deer, but since her grandmother’s murder, the gift had intensified. How had her grandmother born such a burden and remained sane over so many years? Only seventeen winters old, she believed herself too young for the responsibilities she’d inherited with her grandmother’s passing, a loss she’d hardly yet begun to mourn. ‘Oh Great Creator, how I miss her,’ Ona’tah whispered.
The breeze carried the stench to her as the honio’on moved his bowels, a stink worse than the dung of a diseased wolf. What did these barbarians eat? To distract herself, she focused upon his aura. Over his left shoulder, she saw the image of a plain-faced woman with a broad smile hugging three children, and further behind him to his right stood near a dozen smaller ones. In front of him, an old woman knelt in pain. One day he would help that old lady, Ona’tah knew, just as he would make that mother and all her little ones very happy. Ona’tah saw none of the contorted faces of men in pain she so often saw around the braves of the Eagle Clan. Though he was a honio’on with no respect for the Great Law of Peace, this man would live a long life, bring joy to many, and harm no one. He would, that is, unless she ended his life now.
Suddenly a single loud gunshot rang out. The French only carried muskets, but Ona’tah knew that sound was too crisp for a musket. Someone had fired a rifle. Instantly, her thoughts turned to her father. Could that be him? He was out here somewhere, probably in Onon’dowaga territory, and she’d been looking for him for over two weeks now. Onon’dowaga braves were the fiercest warriors amongst the Six Nations, the battle leaders of the Ganung’sisne’ha, but those living here had a bad reputation for treachery, which is why other Ganung’sisne’ha called them the Black Mingo. Ona’tah must find her father before he got himself killed.
The honio’on under the sacred tree jumped up from his squat, hastily tugging up his breeches as he glanced back towards the French camp. A series of individual shots rang out, but with the whistle of musket bullets. Presumably, the honio’on were stumbling from their tents and returning fire. A man shouted out, perhaps begging a ceasefire, but she couldn’t discern what he said. From his position, the honio’on would have a better view of the clearing than Ona’tah. He hurriedly buckled his belt and then ran towards her, away from the sounds of battle.
If Ona’tah did nothing, he would run into her. The honio’on proved just as blind as she’d suspected and failed to see her until she stepped out and levelled her rifle straight at his chest. Then he collapsed to his knees, his hands held high, crying out, ‘Non, non!’
Up close, his foul body odour offended. Honio’on did not bathe in a stream every day as the Ganung’sisne’ha did. Yet still the Creator loved this one. Yes, He loved everyone, but some pleased Him more than others, and somehow this wretch did. She grimaced, stepped back and lowered her rifle, then gestured for him to go.
His eyes widened, and his jaw dropped. He knelt there for several seconds, frozen like a deer that finds itself in an arrow’s path, before stammering, ‘Merci! Merci beaucoup!’ He struggled back to his feet and beat a path away from both her and the camp, his bare feet already displaying red marks as he tore through the undergrowth.
Instinct made Ona’tah turn back towards the camp and raise her rifle again. This was no honio’on; a Ganung’sisne’ha approached through the trees with the grace of a cougar. He stepped into the open a few steps away, a young brave around her own age, just a little taller than she—of average height for a Ganung’sisne’ha —but too skinny for a warrior, yet with his head shaved and torso painted for battle. The pattern and high quality of his wampum belt told her he was a Mingo brave from a high-ranking, noble family. A look of alarm entered his eyes, and she saw the sinewy muscles in his forearm tense as he gripped his rifle, but he did not make to raise it. Clearly, he’d failed to see her before she’d raised her weapon and now couldn’t decide what action to take. She could pull the trigger at any time and, at this distance, she couldn’t miss. Then his aura came to life, and—as if the moon had covered the sun in an eclipse—darkness filled her vision.
She saw a thousand men and women screaming in terror, dying, tearing at their hair or trying to hold back entrails falling from open wounds in their stomachs, Ganung’sisne’ha and honio’on both, all surrounding the youth in a whirl that made her dizzy to watch, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away because the darkness demanded all her attention. She stumbled back a step before she could stop herself. A sick feeling permeated her stomach, and she feared her bladder would soon release a warm torrent down her leggings. This innocent-looking young man’s aura was more powerful and terrible than any she’d ever seen before, even amongst the most notorious of braves. He was so young, yet his future so dark. Surely this boy served the Evil One; he was a true Black Mingo and must die. Her shaking finger hovered over the trigger. ‘Great Creator, guide my spear and grant me strength!’