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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."