Endeavour’s Fall #10: Bear That Runs Along The Eastern GateJan 23, 2017
When a flash of lightning is seen, and a loud crash is heard, they say, “That is the boy [the Son of Heno the Thunder God]! He is trying to hit the earth children with a fire stone. He remembers how they struck him, a long time ago.”
-Why Lightning Sometimes Strikes, Haudenosaunee Legend
The Haudenosaunee man wore his long grey hair tied behind his head where it could quickly be hidden under a hat or a hood. He wore no feather or trophy to show his rank or prove his bravery. Such things were a distant memory. His dark cloak could pass for British. It was dusted with soot from the dead trees around him.
When the crunching of gravel grew louder, carefully searched the surrounding wood for any sign of betrayal before silently making his way out of the stunted trees to the British rail line. When he spoke, it was the first warning he gave his visitor of his presence.
“You walk like a drunken buffalo,” he snapped. “My grandmother could hear your footsteps, and she has been dead for ten years.”
His object of scorn was a slovenly man, also native, with a low-born sloping forehead. He was dressed in filthy cast-off clothing that stank of gin. The drunk shrugged casually with the dismissiveness of one used to much worse treatment.
“Your grandmother blessed you with her kind tongue, oh great Bear That Runs Along The Eastern Gate,” the drunk said. “How kind of you to leave the People behind the mighty Eastern Gate to walk with a simple drunk in these cursed lands.”
“I earned my title, and not so that you could drag it through the mud. Give me the message. Or have you come to beg like a bought woman for more drinking money?”
“Running Bear, you have more knowledge of such women than even I do. Not many are willing to walk the path I walk.”
Running Bear laughed. It was not a kind laugh.
“You can go back to the People’s campfires, but I cannot. Let me enjoy some of the few comforts that fall my way in the British sewers,” the drunk whined.
“You smell like you enjoy some of those comforts a little too much. Here is your money. Now give me the letter and go back to your cups.”
The drunk caught Running Bear’s tossed purse and considered it closely. “The white men are stupid to be so cruel. They have created many enemies within their own lodge. Like a man who beats his sons and his women, they soon will not be able to trust anyone.”
Running Bear slammed an elbow into the drunk’s face. As he fell to the ground, Running Bear tore the message from his hand.
“Do not toy with me. I am not paying you for your thoughts, and I have had enough of your stink in my nostrils.” He scanned the cover of the parchment. “Nothing else?”
The drunk wiped some blood from his lip. He did not try to rise. “No. The armory received an unusual trade less than a month ago. The man I spoke to did not see what was in the crates. They were carried directly to the Star Chamber’s men.”
“I see. As usual, your news is as helpful as a canteen half-full of dog piss.” Running Bear turned to leave, and then looked back over his shoulder. “However, I would pay to know anything else you hear about the Star Chamber.” With that, he disappeared into landscape.
The drunk rose, and, less silently, stumbled back to the tracks.
Running Bear slipped through the blackened forest back towards his home. To get there, he crossed lands where his People had fought the British many times, years ago. Running Bear could read the scars on the landscape like a book. They reminded him of battles he had witnessed and somehow survived.
A small rounded top reminded him of a daring Chippewa assault that had cut off enemy communications and allowed a surprise victory. A row of craters reminded him of a brave Mohigan squad that had held off attacks for three days without any water until reinforcements could reach them. Running Bear still remembered the smell of the smoke. And the smell of blood and death.
It had been here on the battlefield with the British that the People’s many uneasy truces had been welded into something more solid and permanent. The Iroquois genius for longhouse alliances had created something new: A nation like that of the British themselves.
Now he alone was the chief charged with defending the borders of this nation on the one line that mattered: the Eastern Gate. The Eastern Gate was not uniform all along the long frontier with the colonies. Here near Albany, in the land between the colonies and the great lakes, there had been many battles in the past. Here the Eastern Gate was at its strongest.
First, Running Bear saw the small scout balloon that rose high above the lines. Then he crossed the deep trenches designed to slow enemy troops and walkers. He made the required token calls and was permitted to pass through a gate in a long berm topped by a palisade and watchtowers or ondaqua. Further back lay more trenches for troops and guns. Except for a few lookouts and sentries they sat empty and waiting.
The deep trenches and new guns were mostly his doing. He had toured battlefields in Europe, not long ago, and he was confident that he had learned many of the techniques that the British and their enemies used in their eternal battles there.
Running Bear had brought back many large guns from Europe himself. Many came directly from the Krupp foundries where Britain’s enemies armed themselves. These were deep behind the lines, hidden until needed.
To these large guns, Running Bear had added deep trenches that might slow large war machines. New Iroquois anti-airship rockets were stacked like felled lumber under fortified bunkers. New weapons he hoped would stop the British and their machines. But even so, Running Bear was uneasy. Could these preparations really stop the British if they were ever to turn their full attention back towards his People?
The British did not use extensive fortifications here in their colonies. Here they trusted their many rail lines and airships to move troops from a few forts to wherever they were needed most. The People sent probing raids a few times a year, but an unsteady peace had predominated for years now.
Running Bear boarded a simple, narrow-gauge railroad back to his headquarters. Part of the Iroquois genius lies in taking what they need from their enemies. They took the white men’s railroads. They took their steel and their rifles. And now, with long-laid plans and cunning, Running Bear had taken the course, heading, and current crew levels of the Imperial airship captained by the murderer Lockhart.
© J. O. Evans 2017. All Rights Reserved.