Near Modern-Day Rhode Island
Fast as Lightning in the Sky watched the person he hated most in all the world approach him from the long line of snow-covered trees. He gnashed his teeth against the cold and reflected on his feelings. Perhaps hate was too strong. He hated no one. But this boy, this Montaukett warrior named Speaks His Mind, had a strut, a way of carrying himself that bothered Fast as Lightning. He tried hiding his disdain as Speaks His Mind stepped up to him through the drifted snow, smiling ear to ear as if he hadn’t a care in the world. But he should care, Fast as Lightning thought, for they were about to face the enemy.
“Runs Like Deer,” Speaks His Mind said in greeting, “why do you look so trodden upon?”
“I am Fast as Lightning in the Sky now,” the former Runs Like Deer said. “It is the Red God I serve from this day forward, and that is the name he has given me.” He tried showing as much respect as possible. Speaks His Mind’s father was sachem for all the Montaukett people. That alone was reason enough to show deference.
“Yes, we have heard,” Speaks His Mind said, nodding and looking Fast as Lightning up and down as if a change in name meant a change in body as well. When he saw that no physical change was present, he continued. “They say a white man gave you that god. A dead white man.”
Speaks His Mind’s emphasis on ‘dead’ angered Fast as Lightning. He took a step forward, imagined the back of his hand smacking blood from Speaks His Mind’s mouth. He thought better of it and held his ground. He smiled. “The people from the future, the up-timers they are called, brought the Red God to our land. He speaks to me like no other god before him. I found him in the pages of the white man’s book. He called to me and made me his own.”
Speaks His Mind nodded. “And yet, the Red God was not powerful enough to keep the English white man who gave him to you from dying. What does that say about the Red God’s power?”
It was an insult, and Fast as Lightning reconsidered his patience. Yet, there was truth in what Speaks His Mind had stated, a truth that perhaps Fast as Lightning had ignored. The Red God had been good to him since they had met. And yet . . .
“The sun is about to set, Speaks His Mind,” Fast as Lightning said, ignoring the brash comment. “Your father has asked me to accompany you to Sun Rising’s village. The Narragansett people are Montauk enemies and have been so for a long time. Why do we go and speak with him?”
Speaks His Mind turned and walked back towards the tree line. Fast as Lightning followed, lifting his bear fur-wrapped boots high with each step to plod through the drifted snow. “The Mohegans have been raiding both Montaukett and Narragansett villages all winter. They have captured many of our people, children included, and are selling them as slaves to tribes north. This cannot be allowed to continue. We now have a mutual enemy, Sun Rising and I, and so we will go and speak with him and convince him to give us warriors for the negotiations with Sachem Raging Wolf.”
Fast as Lightning shook his head. “Raging Wolf of the Mohegans will never negotiate with you or with Sun Rising.”
They reached the treeline. There, five Montaukett warriors rose out of the snow. Fast as Lightning was impressed by how well their thick white wolf pelts blended seamlessly with the drift. Speaks His Mind greeted them with kind gestures, then turned to Fast as Lightning, and said, “I am Speaks His Mind, or so I am told. But negotiation is not always conducted with words; your Red God should know this, coming from a white man. Sometimes force is the best argument, and so we will go to Sun Rising in force and see what he has to say. And then . . .” He drew a tomahawk from his belt and waved it through the cold air. “. . . we will meet Raging Wolf for further negotiation.”
“You might start a war, Speaks His Mind,” Fast as Lightning said. “A war that you might not be able to win. Raging Wolf has English friends. Many English friends.”
Speaks His Mind shrugged. “Then Raging Wolf may not be able to hear the truth of my words. But I have to try. My father expects me to. My people expect me to. I have been asked to do this, and I will do it. Will you attend me or not?”
What arrogance! What bravado! How has this boy not been killed yet by an enemy’s blade? Yet, there was strength in Speaks His Mind’s words and eyes that Fast as Lightning found appealing, and he wondered how the Red God would manifest himself through this impetuous little boy that stood before him, layered in deerskin, bear fur, and snow.
“Very well,” Fast as Lightning said. “I will come, if for no other reason but to try to keep you alive.”
Speaks His Mind chuckled. He put his hand on Fast as Lightning’s shoulder. “Pray to your Red God that he keeps us both alive.”
Sun Rising was sachem and a highly respected man among the Narragansett people. Therefore, it was an honor to be admitted to his long house and invited to smoke. Speaks His Mind accepted the invitation for himself and for Fast as Lightning. The rest of their men waited outside standing guard, for they were in dangerous territory, despite Sun Rising’s warm welcome. Fast as Lightning was not sure how Sun Rising and the Narragansett people would view five Montaukett warriors fully armed outside their sachem’s dwelling. But Sun Rising took it in stride, and so they entered, shared greetings, smoked, and talked.
“Raging Wolf is powerful,” Sun Rising said, his elder voice coarse and broken with occasional fits of coughing. “The Mohegan are powerful. You do not have enough men to defeat them.”
“That is why I have come to you, Sun Rising,” Speaks His Mind said, drawing smoke from a pipe. He let the smoke drift from his mouth like a snake, then he said, “I propose that we confront him together, you and I and any warriors you may wish to add to my party. If we go together, united, and he sees that the Narragansett and Montaukett people stand against him, how can he not relent?”
Sun Rising grunted and puffed on his pipe. “Raging Wolf is younger than me, but he is still old like me, and age can make men stubborn. Raging Wolf believes that he is destined to be chief of all Algonquin lands. It is a foolish dream, of course, but dreams can sometimes make men do foolish things. He has the support of the English colonists too, most of them anyway, despite my personal relationship with William Bradford of the Plymouth colony. Raging Wolf is strong, and no amount of Narragansett and Montaukett warriors will stay his hand in this long, bitter winter.”
Speaks His Mind drew smoke from his pipe, then handed it to Fast as Lightning, who took it humbly and smoked. Speaks His Mind cleared his throat, then said, “I do not propose that we go and fight him, Sachem Sun Rising. I propose that we go and make peace with him, and that we propose an alliance to stand against the coming Ring of Fire.”
From the blank expression on his face, it was clear that Sun Rising did not understand this term. Fast as Lightning wasn’t sure that he understood it either. All he had heard about it was rumor and hearsay from French, English, and Dutch colonists. Indeed, the Red God he worshipped had come through the Ring of Fire, but he did not know if anything else from it would come all the way over from Europe.
“Tell him, Fast as Lightning,” Speaks His Mind said, gesturing him forward. “Tell Sachem Sun Rising about your Red God, and how he seized you as a worshipper without your consent. Tell him about the dead Englishman who brought the Red God to you and how he sacrificed himself to the snake so that his spirit would carry the Red God’s message to you. Tell him about the people that have come through the Ring of Fire from the future, descended they say, from the English, and how they intend on riding boats powered by boiling water and dragon fire across the great sea, to bring death and desolation to us all. Tell him!”
Speaks His Mind raised his voice, and Fast as Lightning had to admit that it was a good show. But that’s all it was: a show. And lies . . . all lies. None of it was true, or, at least, none of it could be proven. There were rumors, whispers among colonists about the Ring of Fire. But it was all speculation, and it certainly was not the case that the Red God had coerced Fast as Lightning in any way. He had accepted him with open arms and open heart.
Fast as Lightning stared back at Speaks His Mind, trying to figure out how to refute everything the little cretin had just said. His hatred for the boy rose, but he swallowed his anger, breathed deeply, and nodded. “There is some truth in what Speaks His Mind says, Sachem Sun Rising.” It was difficult for Fast as Lightning to lie about his god, but he sensed that that was what Speaks His Mind wished him to do. “I am burdened by the Red God’s will, though I struggle against it every day. And the colonists speak of ships that belch fire, and muskets that can put a warrior down at nearly a mile. These are truths, and that is the future that awaits us when the Ring of Fire comes.” Fast as Lightning wondered if he had gone too far but Speaks His Mind’s sudden glance at him told him that he done exactly what had needed to be done.
“And so you see, Sachem Sun Rising,” Speaks His Mind said, in his most earnest voice, “it is very likely that the English are supporting Raging Wolf’s raids against us, so that our two peoples are weak for the coming spring . . . and for the coming Ring of Fire. The English are not Raging Wolf’s allies. None of the white colonists are and never have been, but this is different, more sinister, more evil. Raging Wolf is being deceived by the English thralls of the people of the future, and I believe that once he sees how Fast as Lightning has been seized by their infernal Red God, he will know the truth of it, and ally with us, so that we may stand together, as one nation, against the coming Ring of Fire.
“So, I ask you again, Sachem Sun Rising, come with me to meet Raging Wolf and make him see the truth.”
Sun Rising puffed on his pipe for a very long time, staring into the fire between them. Fast as Lightning could hear the bitter wind pick up outside the longhouse. He drew his bearskin robe up tighter around him and shivered despite the warm fire. He was angry, furious in fact, for allowing Speaks His Mind to put him in such a spot with Sun Rising. He wanted to reach out and smack the boy’s smug little face. He imagined doing so by the spirit of the Red God that now coursed through his veins. But he waited until the Narragansett chief finally spoke.
“My people are concerned about my health, Speaks His Mind,” Sun Rising said, followed by a fit of coughing. “This winter is very cold, and I am coughing more than usual. Thus, I will respect my people’s concern and refuse your offer to go see Raging Wolf for myself. However, I will give you five of my warriors to match your five. And I will also ask my nephew, Good Hawk, to represent me in these negotiations. He will be sachem one day. The experience will be to his benefit. They will go with you and support you in this effort.”
Hearing all this, Speaks His Mind smiled and nodded. “I thank you, Sachem Sun Rising. Today, I hope we have forged a lasting peace between our peoples.”
Sun Rising stood with help, but his back was curved and he leaned forward in his thick wrappings. “Go now,” he said, waving them away. “I must rest. But listen to me, Speaks His Mind. Take caution with Raging Wolf. He is unlike any sachem you have ever faced. He is brave, wise, and deceitful. Go in peace, and let us pray that your skills as a speaker, as a negotiator, will bear fruit.”
When they were far away from Sun Rising’s longhouse and men, Fast as Lightning grabbed Speaks His Mind by the scruff and pushed him against a tree. “You have dishonored me. You lied to Sun Rising about me. I was not taken by the Red God. I accepted him willingly, and I have benefited from him. Nor are the rumors about the up-timers and their Ring of Fire correct. The English despise them, and so do the French. Only the Dutch seem to accept them, and that, too, is suspect. So why did you lie? Why?”
Speaks His Mind’s men came up and crowded Fast as Lightning, and suddenly he realized that he had let his anger get the better of him. He let go. Speaks His Mind adjusted himself, waited until Fast as Lightning stepped back a few paces, then he said, “I will do what I have to do to save our people. If it means lying to an old man to ensure that he gives me what I need, I will do so. And come good weather, if my lie turns against me and I suffer for it, so be it. What matters to me is now. We have to stop Raging Wolf from attacking our villages . . . now!
“Besides, what I said was only half false. All the colonists who know or have heard of these people from the Ring of Fire agree. They are coming, and they are, for the most part, descended from English colonies that do not even exist yet, and maybe they will never exist now. We know nothing about these people, but we do know one thing: the white man has never dealt with our people honorably. Individual white men, yes; one can always find a flower among the weeds. But they are coming, Fast as Lightning. The people who created your Red God will come, and their ships and weapons are better than ours, better than the English and French colonists that we know. But is their heart better? Are they better human beings? We cannot afford to wait and see. We must unite now and be ready when they come.
“So yes, I lied to Sun Rising. And I will do it all over again if I have to.”
Fast as Lightning did not speak. He just stood there, staring into this young boy’s eyes. How was it possible that such a young man had so much wisdom? It didn’t seem real. He was still furious for being forced to lie, to deceive Sun Rising. The Narragansett leader was an enemy true, and perhaps it was fine to deceive an enemy to get what you wanted, as Speaks His Mind had just said. But deception was a dangerous path. He knew that. Once a man travelled that path, it was difficult to stop, for one lie always led into another, until a man could not tell the difference between a lie and a truth.
Fast as Lightning sighed deeply, nodded, and said, “Very well, Speaks His Mind. This is your mission. Your father has given you command of it. Now that you have your men, what is our next move?”
Speaks His Mind stepped away from the tree, smiling ear to ear. It was clear that he had no doubt about their next move, and that scared Fast as Lightning the most.
“Raging Wolf has refused to let us enter his home,” Fast as Lightning’s growl of discontent was faint in the growing wind.
Speaks His Mind nodded. “But nonetheless, he did agree to meet with us. I will see that as… hope.”
“It is an insult.” Fast as Lightning spat into the snow. “We should refuse the meeting immediately.”
“We have no time for such petty concerns, follower of the Red God. Raging Wolf has agreed to meet and that is enough.”
Sun Rising’s nephew, Good Hawk, appeared to be watching them intently as they argued back and forth, as if gathering his thoughts before entering the conversation. Then he walked over to them and said, “Speaks His Mind is right. But so are you, Fast as Lightning. Raging Wolf looks down upon us just as sure as we know that the sun will rise in the morning. I do not trust him. But even should he agree to join us, could we fully rely on his word? He is as a white man now. They even say that his eyes have turned as white as an Englishman’s.”
“It would seem we have little choice,” Speaks His Mind said. “We can but hope he will listen to reason and see the truth of things.”
The five Montauk and five Narragansett warriors who joined with them had spread out around the clearing, waiting as patiently as they could for Raging Wolf to arrive. The Narragansett warriors, however, appeared to be keeping close to Good Hawk. Fast as Lightning did not doubt that Sun Rising had instructed them to make sure that his nephew returned to him alive.
“Someone comes!” One of the Montauk warriors said, pointing to the clearing’s northern edge.
A man, alone and with a stride that bespoke the fearlessness of his heart and his name, entered the clearing.
“Raging Wolf!” Speaks His Mind said upon recognizing the man. “We welcome you.”
Fast as Lightning stared at Raging Wolf. There was no doubt the man was a hardened warrior, but it was disturbing that the Mohegan had come alone to this meeting. The man was either braver than Fast as Lightning imagined him being or very foolish. Perhaps both.
“Speaks His Mind,” Raging Wolf said, appraising the smaller man. “I am told that you would speak with me.” He lifted his fur-covered arms and turned to acknowledge everyone else in attendance. “And you brought a party. Do you fear me?”
Speaks His Mind shook his head. “A man would be foolish not to, Raging Wolf, Sachem of the Mohegans. I am told that there is much to fear in your stare, though looking upon your face now, it does not seem so untrustworthy. Perhaps they were wrong. Perhaps you are a man that can be spoken to in a rational manner.”
Raging Wolf already seemed to grow weary of the banter. Fast as Lightning could see the Mohegan’s jaw clench as he gnashed his teeth in rapid succession. “Very well. Speak to me then. Why do you come to me?”
Speaks His Mind nodded and cleared his throat. “I would speak with you about the coming ring.”
“Ring? What ring?”
“The Ring of Fire,” Speaks His Mind said. “I know that you are aware of it. You hear the rumors like we do, from your English friends. Your relationship with the white man is well known. Surely you must see the danger that comes with them.”
Raging Wolf shook his head, his strong, prominent nose wiggling in the cold air as if sniffing for meat. “My friendship to the white man is strong. They are of no threat to me, nor is this ‘ring of fire’ that you speak of.”
“They use you, Raging Wolf,” Speaks His Mind said bluntly. “They turn our tribes against one another. Already you raid us, taking our women and children as slaves for them. I ask you: where will it end, Raging Wolf? When they have destroyed the Montaukett and the Narragansett, will they not turn upon the Mohegan?”
“You speak as if you would have me go to war with the white man.” Raging Wolf frowned, his earlier arrogance and solid stance lessened in his tone. “There has always been war among the tribes. That is nothing new. I raid your villages for slaves because I choose to do so, not at the white man’s bidding.”
“But they are the ones who buy them from you and sell them further north to tribes that they wish to influence even more,” Speaks His Mind argued. “Should you not stand with your own? You ask if I would have you go to war with the white man. I would ask you to do this, but not alone. Our tribes would stand with you to protect this land and our way of life.” Speaks His Mind gestured at the Narragansett man standing beside him. “This is Good Hawk, nephew of Sun Rising and soon to be Sachem of the Narragansett. Let him tell you that his people also see the dangers of the up-time white men from the Ring of Fire.”
Fast as Lightning saw Good Hawk flinch as he was put on the spot, like he himself had been just a day ago in a lie against his god. But Good Hawk straightened, breathed deeply, and spoke with the authority of his uncle.
“We do stand with Speaks His Mind’s people,” Good Hawk nodded. “If we do not unite, then hope will be lost. None of us alone can stand against the weapons of those from this Ring of Fire. I have never seen any of them, but what I have heard is true. They are devils conceived from a blinding flash of light, and they are coming, Raging Wolf. None of us are safe.”
“I have already told you that the white man is not my enemy,” Raging Wolf said, his eyes blinking wildly against the cold wind.
“See this man?” Speaks His Mind stabbed a finger in Fast as Lightning’s direction. “The white man’s Red God has claimed his soul. I brought him here to show you the horrors that await us all if we fail to act.”
Fast as Lightning didn’t know exactly what lie Speaks His Mind expected of him this time, but it was clear he was to make a show of his affliction for Raging Wolf. He began twitching his body as he had seen those who had been bitten by a poisonous snake. He bubbled saliva on his lips as he mumbled words that had no meaning, words that he made up quickly with no thought. He raved and babbled like a madman as his body shook. Two Montauk warriors stepped forward to take hold of him. As they did, he ended his spectacle by crying out, “Red God! Red God come across the waves! Come to us so that we may serve you! All must serve him!”
Raging Wolf seemed convinced that Fast as Lightning was mad, taking a step back, his hand sliding to touch the hilt of the large knife sheathed on his hip.
“What happened to this fool?” Raging Wolf asked.
“As I told you, their Red God has claimed him. What remains of his mind is filled with the god’s red fury. Such a fate awaits us all if we do not act and do so soon,” Speaks His Mind urged Raging Wolf. “Will you join with us to stand against the white man?”
Raging Wolf stared at Speaks His Mind in silence. Fast as Lightning caught the wink Raging Wolf gave in the direction of the trees to the west as he raised a hand to scratch his cheek.
The twang of a bowstring being released followed.
“A trap!” Fast as Lightning screamed as he felt the power of the Red God flowing through him. He threw himself at Speaks His Mind, plowing into the boy and taking them both to the ground as an arrow flew through the air where Speaks His Mind had stood a moment before.
From the trees surrounding the clearing came Raging Wolf’s Mohegan warriors. They wore war paint with an eager bloodlust in their eyes. Bowstrings twanged as they unleashed a volley of arrows at the Narragansett and Montaukett warriors. One of the Narragansetts took an arrow to the heart and staggered backwards before falling to the ground. Another arrow buried itself in the shoulder of a Montaukett warrior. The man grunted loudly, his features twisting into a snarl. He tore the arrow free from his flesh and charged at the ambushers while drawing his knife. His charge was cut short as two more arrows slammed into him, one piercing his exposed throat, the other plunging into his gut.
The quiet of the clearing had turned into chaos and violence. Fast as Lightning was up in an instant, leaving Speaks His Mind struggling to get to his feet. One of Fast as Lightning’s tomahawks flew end over end through the air as he flung it at one of Raging Wolf’s bowmen. The side of the man’s skull split open as the weapon’s blade sunk into it. Fast as Lightning yanked his other tomahawk from his belt and charged the bowmen. They were already discarding their bows and engaging the Narragansett and Montaukett warriors who had survived their initial attack.
More of Raging Wolf’s warriors entered the clearing from the other side. Fast as Lightning noticed that Speaks His Mind was directly in their path as they advanced into the clearing with maddening war cries. To his credit, Speaks His Mind did not run from them. He stood his ground, though feebly, and met them. Speaks His Mind’s tomahawk slashed a wide gash across the chest of the first warrior to reach him. The man shrieked before Speaks His Mind finished him with a savage swing of his tomahawk against the man’s neck. Speaks His Mind readied himself to engage the next of Raging Wolf’s warriors, his eyes wild but steady and determined.
An arrow flew from the trees and caught Speaks His Mind in the shoulder. He dropped his weapon, just as he was trying to thwart a blow from another Mohegan warrior standing in front of him. He failed to block the attack, and the Mohegan’s war club struck Speaks His Mind’s skull and sent him reeling. Blood flowed from Speaks His Mind’s forehead as he staggered and then toppled over.
Fast as Lightning tore into the line of Raging Wolf’s bowmen, the power of the Red God blessing him with speed. His tomahawk slashed open one bowman’s cheek, knocking him aside, and Fast as Lightning spun to catch a second bowman in the neck with his tomahawk’s blade. The man’s blood spurted over Fast as Lightning as he kicked the man’s flailing body away from him. Fast as Lightning counted over two dozen warriors from Raging Wolf’s tribe still facing them, and he saw that Speaks His Mind had fallen and knew this was a fight that he and his allies could not win.
“Raging Wolf!” Fast as Lightning heard Good Hawk roar. “Face me!”
Raging Wolf was laughing as he drew his knife and joined the fight, wading through the carnage that now littered the red-and-white trampled ground of the clearing. Good Hawk hefted his war club with a grim expression of determination and rage. He swung the club at Raging Wolf’s head, but the Mohegan sachem was quick. Raging Wolf easily avoided the blow, rushing in close to Good Hawk. He rammed his knife’s blade upwards and into Good Hawk’s ribs. Good Hawk coughed blood, but managed to shove Raging Wolf away. Raging Wolf laughed as Good Hawk’s war club fell from his hands. Blood stained Good Hawk’s chin as he drew his knife and lurched forward at Raging Wolf. Raging Wolf dodged a flurry of wild swings as Good Hawk slashed at him. Good Hawk’s blade struck nothing but empty air as Raging Wolf outmaneuvered him until Raging Wolf finally reached out to catch Good Hawk’s wrist with his left hand. Holding Good Hawk’s weapon at bay, Raging Wolf slid close to him, ramming his knife into Good Hawk’s belly and twisting the blade. Good Hawk howled in pain, blood flying from his lips. When Raging Wolf released him, he dropped to his knees. Raging Wolf spat on him in contempt before a final slash of his knife opened Good Hawk’s throat in an explosion of red.
The fight had drawn the attention of Raging Wolf’s warriors, thus giving Fast as Lightning time to reach Speaks His Mind. One of Raging Wolf’s warriors stood over the wounded boy. Fast as Lightning struck the warrior in the face with the butt of his tomahawk, shattering the man’s teeth. As the warrior staggered from the blow, Fast as Lightning finished him with a swing of his tomahawk that cut the man’s face open from forehead to chin.
Fast as Lightning picked Speaks His Mind up, throwing him over his shoulder. Then he ran, praying to the Red God for speed as he went, his legs aching beneath him as he raced out of the clearing, leaving Raging Wolf and his gleeful warriors behind. The few surviving Narragansett and Montaukett warriors followed after him.
The escape from the Mohegan ambush had been a narrow one. Their party had been reduced from thirteen to seven. Three of those seven had taken terrible wounds, Speaks His Mind’s worst among them. They had run for what seemed like hours before finally feeling secure enough to stop and do what they could for the wounded. With Speaks His Mind wounded so badly and Good Hawk dead, Fast as Lightning found himself in charge of those who remained.
A small fire crackled and burned in the center of the small clearing where they had stopped for the night. There had been no signs of pursuit from Raging Wolf’s men for some time now, and Fast as Lightning was sure that Raging Wolf and his warriors were done with them. For now, at least.
Two of the warriors stood watch as the others tended to the wounded. Speaks His Mind lay near the fire. His groaning broke Fast as Lightning’s heart. However wise and fearless he might be, Speaks His Mind’s life had been cut short, and Fast as Lightning knew the boy wouldn’t make it through the night.
Fast as Lightning knelt at Speaks His Mind’s side. Speaks His Mind looked up at him with weary, bloodshot eyes.
“That did not go as I had hoped,” Speaks His Mind rasped.
“You can’t blame yourself, Speaks His Mind,” Fast as Lightning tried to comfort him. “Raging Wolf surely always intended to betray us. Your intentions were good. His were not.” Anger boiled in Fast as Lightning’s blood. The Red God boiled. “I will see to it that he pays for his betrayal.”
Speaks His Mind nodded. “But you do not have many men left, my friend. Not enough to go after him now. Go to Sun Rising. Tell him of Good Hawk’s death. He will seek the right vengeance against Raging Wolf.”
Wisdom again was flowing from this young man, this near-death boy whose impressive behavior was growing stronger in Fast as Lightning’s mind. Going back to the Narragansett was the right thing to do. They did not have enough men to confront Raging Wolf. Going back to Sun Rising, however, meant certain war. And that was not why they had faced Raging Wolf in the first place, what Speaks His Mind had wanted. What would Sun Rising do once he did learn that Raging Wolf had killed his nephew and next sachem of the Narragansett people? Wage war against the Mohegan, probably. But maybe if Raging Wolf were killed beforehand, that might sate Sun Rising’s need for revenge and give them all a chance later to unite against the Ring of Fire. Maybe . . .
“I will go and kill Raging Wolf myself.”
The camp paused, and every man around the fire stared at Fast as Lightning. Surely, he was mad with what he had just said. Perhaps the Red God had made him crazy after all. Fast as Lightning stood amidst their confused stares. He placed his hands on his hips and stared them all down.
“I will go with you,” one Montaukett warrior said. A Narragansett warrior did the same, and then another, and another, until five of the remaining seven had stood and offered their allegiance for Fast as Lightning’s plan.
“Give me your knife,” Speaks His Mind said through a terrible cough.
Fast as Lightning shook his head. “No, I will not let you kill yourself. You may live yet.”
“Give me your knife!”
He did as requested, placing the knife into Speaks His Mind’s shaking hand. “Now, come to me.”
Fast as Lightning knelt. Speaks His Mind pulled deer skin away from his arm, exposing his wrist. He placed the knife against his skin and drew the blade across it, spilling blood. “Now, give me your wrist.”
Fast as Lightning’s heart leapt. He had never done this with anyone; he wondered if he wanted to do it now. But he did as requested, pulling his covering away from his arm. Speaks His Mind cut it quickly.
They locked arms, their blood pressing together. Fast as Lightning held tightly, squeezing Speaks His Mind’s arm until surely it must have hurt. But the young boy never flinched, never moved. Instead, he smiled. “Now we are bound together as brothers forever,” he said. “And perhaps I will gain some of the fire that your Red God possesses.”
Fast as Lightning nodded. “And perhaps I will gain some of your wisdom.”
They held arms together for several more minutes. Then Speaks His Mind pulled away. “Go now, my brother, and seek your vengeance.”
They retraced their steps back to the ambush site, and Fast as Lightning was pleased. The Red God had honored him with fair weather. Snow had not fallen in this place, and the moon was out, so they could easily follow the beaten path left by the Mohegans as they fell back to their village. It was still bitter cold, but Fast as Lightning did not feel it. Now, he felt only anger and sorrow. For even if he succeeded on this raid and Raging Wolf lay dead at his feet, Speaks His Mind might never know the truth. The thought of it made his arm warm where the boy had cut him.
It did not take long to find the Mohegan village. It was circular, like most he had seen, and surrounded by a wooden palisade. Small fires from the houses flickered in the moonlight, and thin lines of smoke could be seen drifting away in the cold air. It was quiet, save for the bark of a dog. Fast as Lightning counted his men again. Five, including himself. He shook his head. What a foolish thing to come here. Speaks His Mind had been correct, but it was too late to stop now. Somewhere down there, hopefully fat with venison and arrogant and loud, lay Raging Wolf, telling tall tales of how he bested Good Hawk, and left him to die. Fast as Lightning shivered at the thought of it.
“Let’s go!” Fast as Lightning said, and they followed him down the wooded ridgeline and up to the entrance. There was no gate, for this was friendly territory, and what did Raging Wolf have to fear anyway? There were guards, just two, wrapped heavily against the cold. Fast as Lightning walked up to them as if he were a Mohegan coming back from a hunt. They did not notice his differences until he was upon the first guard. The man tried moving to block his passage, uttered a word, then received a thick war club across his face. Fast as Lightning’s hand moved faster than he thought possible, the Red God’s gift working through his stiff muscles to give him strength and speed. The other guard tried to raise his tomahawk, but was put down with three strikes against his head. Both were down before any alarm could be sounded.
They pulled the limp bodies to the snow bank and covered them as best as possible. Then they entered the village.
The houses were lined up in a circle around the village. They took the outer walkway, in between a row of houses and the garden plots that lay fallow and covered in snow and ice. Fast as Lightning could smell seared meat on the wind. He sniffed twice, letting his stomach react positively to the scent. He did not realize how hungry he was. But that would have to wait. Right now, they needed a diversion.
The house at the very end of the row seemed the most logical. Fast as Lightning nodded to his men. They nodded back, knowing in advance what they were supposed to do. He did not like it, but what other choice did they have? Their women and children had been killed and captured by the dozens.
The men rushed inside the longhouse, catching the family inside by surprise. There was much screaming, shouting, killing. As he held guard outside, Fast as Lightning shut his eyes and said a small prayer for them. War was a terrible endeavor. He knew this, but maybe some good would come from all this once it was over.
The chaos inside subsided. Fast as Lightning watched to see if they had sounded any alarm. Nothing so far, and his men emerged from the longhouse, followed by heavy grey smoke.
They continued their move around the perimeter of the village. The house they left behind was burning strongly now, and people were beginning to notice and file out of their own houses.
The flow of people towards the fire was constant, and Fast as Lightning was pleased. The diversion had worked. Now all they needed was to find Raging Wolf.
But Fast as Lightning knew where he was. It came to him now, suddenly, like a dream, as if he had been to this Mohegan village before. He had never stepped foot in it. The cut on his arm burned, and he wondered if perhaps Speaks His Mind had been here before, as a child perhaps, with his father. It was possible.
Fast as Lightning stood tall, and flanked by his men, he walked proudly, defiantly towards Raging Wolf’s longhouse, as anxious Mohegan men and women passed them as if they were not there, their minds fixed on the fire burning through one of their homes.
Sachem Raging Wolf popped his head out of his house to look at the commotion. Fast as Lightning jabbed him straight in the face with his war club.
Raging Wolf fell back, and Fast as Lightning followed. The Mohegan leader fell through his fire pit, overturning a spit of venison that charred over the flames. There were two women and three children in the house as well. They screamed as Fast as Lightning and his men poured in.
“Raging Wolf!” Fast as Lightning said, standing over the older man with war club held firmly for a second strike. “I have returned to avenge Good Hawk’s death. We came to you in peace, and you betrayed us. Now you will die, in front of your wife and children.”
Raging Wolf looked small and insignificant in the scattered firelight, his head bleeding profusely. He blinked through the blood and pain and held up an arm as if he were shielding his eyes from the sun. He looked small, indeed, but his words revealed no fear, no worry.
“You came to my village,” Raging Wolf said, raising up on his elbows and looking around the room. He blinked away a line of blood. “With only four warriors? You entered my home with just a few men, and you expect to kill me and escape? Where does that arrogance, that courage, come from?”
“From the Red God,” Fast as Lightning said. “The god of the Ring of Fire. It was a lie what Speaks His Mind said. He does not fill me with madness. He gives me strength and speed. He gave me the courage to come here, and it will be in his honor that I will make you pay for your crimes. All of them”
Raging Wolf nodded, looked again towards his wife, his children. “Then so be it,” he said, lying back prostrate, like the cross with Jesus that Fast as Lighting had seen hanging from a Dutchman’s neck. “Your courage should be rewarded. Strike me down, and strike fast.”
What was this? The great Raging Wolf, Sachem of the Mohegans, would not fight? Would not at least try to rise and defend himself? “Stand,” Fast as Lightning said, stepping back a pace. “We will fight each other, fairly, and I will show you the power of the Red God.”
Raging Wolf shook his bleeding head. “No. I will not fight you in my own home, in front of my wife, my children. Go ahead and do your duty, for your Red God, and for that Ring of Fire that Speaks His Mind fears so much. If what he says about it is true, then perhaps I should die, for our people will need leaders like you, like Speaks His Mind, to face it. I am old, stuck in my ways. Perhaps we need new thinkers for what awaits us in the future. So, I say again, kill me now, and be done with it.”
Fast as Lighting raised his war club to strike, but he caught the terrified face of a small boy out of the corner of his eye. Raging Wolf’s wife too had tears running down her cheek, his daughter as well. All of them could be dead in a moment. All he had to do was swing the club, and vengeance for the Red God, for Good Hawk, would be taken.
Instead, he lowered his club, held it out like a stick towards Raging Wolf’s face. “Let this be a warning, Raging Wolf. You will stop raiding our villages, stop stealing our women and children. You will do so now, or I will return and unleash the Red God upon you all, and there will not be a single Mohegan alive by the end of winter.”
He jabbed the club once again into Raging Wolf’s face, breaking his nose, and knocking him cold.
Then he fled, dropping the club and running as fast as his legs would carry him, towards the entrance to the village, and out into the cold, bitter night.
“I’ve failed you,” Fast as Lightning said, staring into the dying embers of the fire. “I’ve failed us all.”
Speaks His Mind shook his head, coughed. “No. You showed Raging Wolf mercy. That is more than he would have shown you.”
“Sun Rising will go to war, now, once he learns of his nephew’s death. Once he learns that Raging Wolf is still alive.”
“Perhaps. But I will advocate against it, for now. And maybe he will listen. You impressed Raging Wolf, I’m sure, with your bold raid on his village, under the favors of the Red God, and he won’t be so quick to move on any more of our villages.” Speaks His Mind chuckled. “His broken nose will remind him. Sun Rising will want vengeance, yes, but I must remind him that the Ring of Fire is real, and its people are coming. War amongst ourselves can wait. A greater war is coming from across the sea. Unity is what we need to face it.”
Fast as Lightning cringed at the young man’s warning. “With respect, I do not agree, Speaks His Mind. I do not believe that the Ring of Fire will bring war to our land. I do not know what it will bring, but something in me says that it will not bring death and desolation. The Red God comes from the future, and I have faith in Him. He does not fill me with fear. Our future may be complicated, yes, but it will not end when the up-timers come.”
Speaks His Mind paused, nodded, and adjusted himself near the fire. “I pray that you are right. One thing is certain: whatever power flows in your blood, it has given me purpose to live.”
Fast as Lightning nodded. “And me as well. I am glad to see you alive. Can you walk?”
Speaks His Mind nodded, and Fast as Lightning helped him to his feet, saying, “I will help you walk. I will take you to Sun Rising so that you may tell him of Good Hawk’s fate, and the glory that he achieved before he fell.”
“No,” Speaks His Mind said. “We will tell him together, as brothers.”