When the witch pushed the small, wooden cup against his lips again, Hadawa’ko winced. He was sitting upright, leaning against the trunk of the ash tree behind which he’d taken cover before getting shot. Inside his mouth was a bitter taste, and the wound in his left arm burned as if a sharp knife had been heated in the hearth and then stabbed into his flesh. Although he now shivered in the cold night air, at least he hadn’t shared poor Geno’skwa’s fate. While Kanin’guen and he had circled behind the French, the old brave had been shot in the chest. Kanin’guen had told him that the witch administered to Geno’skwa first, but even she could do nothing except ease his agony. Hadawa’ko wondered if this were true, or if the witch simply didn’t like Geno’skwa. After all, the first time she’d seen Hadawa’ko, she’d tried to kill him. Whatever the truth may be, Geno’skwa would soon die.
‘You should drink, Snowdrop,’ insisted Kanin’guen. ‘It will help with the pain.’
‘French One’ga would work better,’ he thought, but said, ‘I don’t trust her.’
The witch glared at him. Lit by moonlight, the sharp angles of her nose and cheekbones looked eerie. She pushed the cup into Kanin’guen’s hand. ‘You deal with him. I’ve got others to see who might appreciate help.’ She spoke with the strong accent common to hill people, but having now heard her speak several times, Hadawa’ko found he could understand most of what she said.
‘Thank you, Clan Mother,’ said the elder, though he spoke to her departing back, and then turned to Hadawa’ko. ‘Niganega’a will stop you getting a fever. Don’t you know how fortunate you are to find a medicine woman just when you need one, and Clan Mother of the Eagle Clan at that? You couldn’t ask for stronger magic.’
Hadawa’ko barked a laugh. ‘As lucky as finding the French, you mean?’
‘How else are you to win your warrior name? Anyway, the members of the medicine societies should be respected, not feared. They work for the good of the Ganung’sisne’ha.’
He wondered if he would ever win his warrior name. Today he could have made a name for himself, but instead his life had been saved by a honio’on, the infamous Fat Man himself. How could he live down such shame?
Just then, Skaro’hiadi came over and addressed Kanin’guen. ‘How is the boy?’ Though he spoke with the coarse accent of the far eastern Ganung’sisne’ha, his words were clear and easier on Hadawa’ko’s ears than the witch’s speech.
‘Can he walk?’
Kanin’guen nodded. ‘He wasn’t shot in the legs.’ The elder offered Hadawa’ko a callused hand. Though only wounded in his arm, his whole body wracked with pain and he felt very light headed, but with Kanin’guen’s assistance he climbed to his feet.
‘Good,’ said the old sachem. ‘Geno’skwa wishes to speak with him.’
Geno’skwa? Before today, he’d never met the old brave, so why did he wish to speak with him? Straightening his back so that he would not appear weak in front of the respected warriors, he followed Skaro’hiadi down the steep slope to the place below the ridge where Geno’skwa lay dying. As he descended, his aches eased, and he found he could easily walk unaided. At the base, the sachem and elder left him to carry on alone.
When Hadawa’ko came close, Geno’skwa opened his eyes and stared straight at him. Hadawa’ko was shocked by how white the old brave’s face had become, as pale as a honio’on. He knelt beside the warrior and saluted with his hand across his chest to show his deep respect for this man who had fought with such courage. ‘You wish to speak to me, Big Brother?’
‘Do you love the Creator, Hadawa’ko?’ The old warrior spoke with the same accent as Tanah’grisson, so Hadawa’ko understood him with ease.
This was a strange question. Hadawa’ko hadn’t given much thought to the Great Creator before, but was honest enough when he answered, ‘Yes.’
Geno’skwa smiled, and his face took on the appearance of a gruesome skull. ‘Good. These days, too often young men abandon the Creator and His Great Law of Peace, taking up with honio’on, mimicking their corrupt ways, and drinking their evil one’ga.’
Hadawa’ko glanced at the ground and flushed. Obviously Geno’skwa hadn’t heard what he’d been up to last night. ‘I keep the Law.’
‘And, I hear you fought well today.’
He doubted the old warrior had heard such, but it would be rude to say so. ‘Thank you, Big Brother.’
Geno’skwa attempted to lift his right arm, and Hadawa’ko realised the dying warrior was attempting to lift the precious bow he still clutched in his pale hands. ‘Take this, please.’
He bent down and took the weapon from the man’s trembling fingers. ‘Thank you.’
‘My grandfather helped me make this when I was your age, using techniques long forgotten by other Ganung’sisne’ha, tricks we should never have forgotten.’
Hadawa’ko turned the bow in his hand, feeling its weight and perfect balance. The workmanship was exquisite, the product of love and care rather than the mass produced rubbish sold to the Ganung’sisne’ha by the various honio’on today.
Geno’skwa continued, ‘Remember what the Ganung’sisne’ha have lost. We must not forget the Great Law of Peace for without it we are nothing.’
Hadawa’ko nodded and then turned his face while he wiped away a tear. No need to let Geno’skwa see his weakness; he would be strong for this courageous brave.
Relieved of his weapon, and his lifelong burden, Geno’skwa’s expression relaxed. ‘I have shunned the rifle for over twenty years, hoping to inspire others to keep the faith and remember the Law. Now it is time for someone younger to carry the flame.’ Once again he smiled, but this time more naturally. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Then he breathed no more.
Hadawa’ko stood and saluted his new friend one last time. ‘We shall meet once again beside the Great Creator’s hearth, Big Brother.’
Kanin’guen appeared beside him and placed his hand on his shoulder. ‘Come, Snowdrop, One Eye is holding a war council.’
Together with the elder, he walked back up the slope to a place near the pepperbushes where Skaro’hiadi was sitting beside One Eye in front of a roaring fire. Close by, the fat honio’on stood watching the five surviving Frenchmen, two of them badly wounded. The honio’on had no concept of tradition; by rights they should all be scalped. Though One Eye had been born a honio’on, he’d been formally adopted into the Eagle Clan and was now their sachem. The witch stood behind her father like some demonic guardian.
‘I must get this news to Big Hand,’ continued Skaro’hiadi.
Kanin’guen took a seat on a log, so Hadawa’ko joined him.
‘Will you take the prisoners with you?’ asked One Eye. Strangely, this sachem had less of an accent than his daughter, and Hadawa’ko found him easier to understand. Perhaps it was because he spoke often at the Grand Council.
Skaro’hiadi shook his head. ‘I must travel swiftly to inform Big Hand and our brothers and sisters there that French guard the fords across Redstone Creek.’
‘Yes, it’s important to let the British and our brothers know what is happening here.’ One Eye appeared to think informing the honio’on more important than his own brothers. Hadawa’ko wondered where this man’s true loyalties lay. One Eye took off his shaved-skin cap and scratched a large bald spot on his head. ‘So, what do we do? It would be stupid for us to take them north where escape would be easy.’
‘Kill them,’ hissed the witch. Hadawa’ko found himself nodding, but then stopped when he realised he’d agreed with her. She spoke with such assurance in front of the elder and sachems; he wished he were so confident. Then again, she was a clan mother, and she’d been born into that position, so she must have experience with such matters.
‘That would be murder,’ said Kanin’guen.
‘Let them go, I say,’ said One Eye.
Everyone turned to see what Skaro’hiadi thought.
‘I agree,’ said Skaro’hiadi. ‘Without muskets, they can do little harm, and lenient treatment of them now may help our cause later if the French fall upon us in great numbers and it is we and the British that desire mercy.’
‘So, it is agreed,’ conceded the witch. ‘The French go free, Skaro’hiadi shall warn Big Hand of what we have witnessed here, and together the rest of us will travel north.’