Excerpt from Chapter 5 – The Susquehanna 1780

vyroba_indiansky_kostym_05Henry Doyle heard the approaching rider coming up the trail toward the Rebel’s camp long before he could see him. The rider was walking his horse cautiously. He was well aware, Doyle guessed, of the Iroquois and Loyalist rangers who had been raiding General Sullivan’s Rebel army since it left its base camp in Easton and headed north along the Susquehanna River toward the Iroquois villages and rich farms in New York.

His dream spirit, aswe’gaí, had alerted him to the rider’s approach several hours before. Now he waited patiently by the deadfall he had rigged across the narrow trail. The rider came into view. As Doyle expected, it was a dispatch rider, in the blue uniform of regular Continental troops. The rider moved slowly along the trail, alert, Doyle thought, but not fearful, his pistol held at the ready. He had tightened and lashed his equipment so that he and the horse made no sound. Not that that mattered, of course. Doyle had easily heard the other animals in the forest grow quiet as the man approached and passed them. The Rebel might as well have been singing at the top of his voice.

He came to the place where Doyle had arranged the fallen tree across the trail. It looked like an accidental blow down from the trees Sullivan’s axmen had cleared to open the trail through the forest. As Doyle had planned, the rider dismounted, pulled a second pistol from his saddle holster, thrust it in his belt, and paused for several minutes to listen. The forest was silent. He then stepped carefully to the left of the trail to step over the tree trunk. Doyle, a few yards away, cut the rope, releasing the deadfall’s tension. The branch exploded into the dispatch rider’s chest, knocking him to the ground. Doyle sprang from hiding to seize the frightened horse’s bridle and tie the horse to a tree. He went back to the unconscious Rebel and felt for a pulse. That worked, Doyle thought. He’s still alive.

Doyle picked up the rider’s weapons, lifted and tied the rider to the horse. After removing the obstruction from the trail and all signs of the deadfall, he led the horse down a side trail to a small glen a mile away, well out of earshot of the Rebel’s camp. He stripped the man naked, tied him to a tree, lit a fire in front of the tree, and waited for the man to regain consciousness. The rider was handsome, in his thirties, Doyle guessed, blond and clean shaven, with surprisingly little body hair. Doyle noticed scars from several wounds on his body.

He watched, with curiosity, as the man slowly gained consciousness and grappled with his situation. He will have no memory of being hit by the branch, Doyle thought. One moment he is in control of his life and future; the next, he is helpless. This man will not enjoy his helplessness. Then the prisoner’s eyes found Doyle, squatting on his haunches a few yards away. What he saw was a Mohawk warrior, face fiercely painted in black and red stripes, tomahawk and scalps at his belt. The rider just glared defiantly at Doyle without a word.

He is preparing himself to resist me, Doyle thought. Good. A brave man is easier to reason with than a coward. He walked to the prisoner’s saddle bags, took out a pipe and tobacco, lit the pipe with a twig from the fire, then stood in from of him, smoking, regarding the man as calmly as if they had just met in a tavern.

“So, what’s your name?” Doyle asked, a friendly smile now lighting his face. He knew the man would be disconcerted to hear flawless English coming from a savage. “Your saddlebag says ‘M. Wilson.’ Are you called Matthew, or Martin, perhaps?”

Almost in spite of himself, the prisoner replied, “My name is Mark.”

“Well, let me tell you how things stand, Mark. When a man is captured as you have been, his first thoughts are confusion and surprise. I watched you search in your mind to understand how you got here. Then the mind tries to deny what the body tells it. It races around, looking for ways to escape what is inevitable. Know that there is no escape and there will be no rescue. No one saw you taken, and no one will follow you here.” He paused to allow his prisoner to come to terms with that reality.

“I see you are a warrior who carries the scars of many fights; I am sure you have killed many enemies. Men die in war. We both know you are a dispatch rider, and so you cannot be allowed to live. You know what we do to prisoners. Between the fire and the skinning knife, death can be a very slow business.” Doyle watched the Rebel’s face tighten. That’s helpful, Doyle thought. He knows.

“So the only question you have to consider now, my friend, is how you will leave this life. There is no other bargain to be made between us. You are already dead. Your choice is dying with long, slow pain, or a warrior’s quick death. I see you are a brave man, but pain, over time, can strip bravery away from the strongest man until the only thing left is pathetic begging for the pain to stop. It just takes time, Mark, and we have plenty of that. I really would prefer to spare you that disgrace.”

Doyle paused again, and stretched the pipe toward his prisoner’s mouth. It was so instinctive a gesture that Mark took the pipe, drew in and exhaled a mouthful of smoke, then, in anger and confusion, jerked his head away.

“I’m curious about the contents of your dispatch case, Mark. Oh, by the way, you can call me Henry. I could, of course, try to lift the seal carefully with my knife, and could probably replace it without signs of tampering. But since I intend that these dispatches reach General Sullivan, it would be better that the dispatch case appears still unopened. I’d appreciate your help.”

“You know I can’t tell you that,” Mark cried. “I was just given the sealed case and my orders. I have no idea what the dispatches contain.” Doyle caught the note of apology in his voice.

“To be sure,” Doyle answered. “But officers talk all the time and soldiers listen. I know the size and strength of your army. I don’t mind telling you that there is no notion of opposing you. We haven’t the men and can expect no help from Niagara. Our cause is lost here. But I want to alert the women and children of our villages in time to flee to safety.”

“The same safety you savages offered the women and children you butchered and raped in Wyoming and Cherry Valley?” Mark snapped back at him. “Those massacres spurred General Washington to retaliate. You have brought this destruction on your own heads.”

“The Mohawks had no part in those massacres,” Doyle replied hotly. “That was the work of the Butlers. They are dogs; their actions disgrace their manhood. I spit on them.” He turned away to regain his composure. “My people wanted none of this war. We sought to remain neutral. That choice was taken away from us. Now our only hope is escape. I want to buy time for that to happen before your army brings fire and death to our homeland.”

“I simply don’t have the information you want,” Mark replied. Then, looking Doyle straight in the eyes, he added, “If you’re going to kill me, just get on with it.”

Doyle nodded in silent agreement. “You’re right. It’s time. I made you the promise of a quick soldier’s death. A man’s family should know he has been buried properly. When I’m done with my business I’ll make sure your body can be found by your troops. Give me something—a password, perhaps—so I can keep my promise.”

“For the good it will do you, the password I was given was ‘Lafayette and Liberty.’ You’ll have to decide if I’m telling you the truth.”

“I think you are, my friend.” With that, he drew his knife, quickly slid it up under the sixth rib into the heart, and held Mark’s body next to his until the spirit left it. He cut down the body, buried it, and marked the grave, burning sage as he offered prayers to the four winds, so that Mark’s spirit would return safely to the earth. Then he carefully washed his face in the nearby brook, dressed in the officer’s uniform, skillfully lifted the protecting seal of the dispatch case, and began to read the papers inside.

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