Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Empire of the Great Sun

Pier Town (at the confluence of the Moon River and the Pheasant River), Empire of the Great Sun
September, 1805

It was humid and hot and the air was thick with flies, even out here over the water. The haze from the river made the High Mound, looming over them as they rowed past, seem vast and distant. Tall Talon sat in the high ceremonial seat in the middle of the boat, swatting at insects with his good hand, and sighed.

It had been a long journey up from Great Sun City, and wearying; and his hosts were getting on his nerves. It was clear that they considered him to be little more than extra baggage, rather than according him full proper respect as one of the children of the Great Sun. Oh, they were polite enough, and observed all the correct formalities, but their hearts weren't in it.

At a shout from the coxswain, the rowers stopped and tipped the oars up out of the water. The boat paused a few hundred yards from the dock.

"Why have we stopped?" shouted Tall Talon.

"There are too many boats in front of us, Great One," said the coxswain.

"They must move," cried Tall Talon. "I will not be kept waiting in this heat all morning."

"There is... something strange happening, Great One," said the coxswain. He called out to one of the boats in the river cant, the river's trade language, which Tall Talon had never bothered to learn. The cox of the other boat called back. The conversation went on a few minutes, as the flies swarmed and Tall Talon's patience swiftly disappeared.

At last the cox turned to him and said, "White men are coming."

"What?" snapped Tall Talon.

The cox gestured up the river. Tall Talon stood up, and from his high seat he could see over the mass of boats around the piers, to the great confluence of waters, where the Moon River and the Pheasant River merged. Coming down the Pheasant River, escorted by half a dozen Pier Town port guard canoes, was a flotilla of six or seven large buffalo-hide boats -- larger than any such boats Tall Talon had seen before, each carrying half a dozen men and piles of furs and other supplies. Even from here he could see that their faces were pale, and many of them were bearded, or had blond or red hair.

"Get me to the pier," he snapped to the cox.

"But Great One," said the cox, "the boats -- "

"I must be at the pier to greet the white men when they get here," growled Tall Talon. "Now move us, or I will see you sold into slavery."

The cox turned with a speed that Tall Talon found very satisfying and called out to the other boats in the river cant. Reluctantly the other boats poled or pushed themselves out of the way, and Tall Talon's boat began to inch forward.

White men had come to the Empire of the Great Sun before, now and then -- explorers, hunters, trappers. They came by ones and twos and threes, and told odd stories of their country far in the east -- great cities, tall ships, fantastic wealth. This was the largest group that had ever made it over the mountains, though.

Tall Talon stepped onto the pier, where he met briefly with the priests and governors of the city and gave orders to arrange the honor guards and prepare for feasting and gift-giving on the High Mound. The white men would be received properly.

With cheering and shouting the hide boats pulled up to the piers and docked. Tall Talon, standing with a beatific smile at the head of the imperial delegation, noticed that most of the white men carried knives and had strapped on their backs long, awkwardly-shaped sticks that seemed to be made of wood and metal. Most of them stayed in the boats, but a few clambered out, nodding to the imperial guards. They had an interpreter, a normal-looking young woman with a child, who spoke quickly to the guards, and then all of them -- guards, interpreter, and white men -- approached him.

"I am Tall Talon," he said, holding his withered hand under his cloak and waving his good hand in an expansive greeting. "I welcome you to the Empire of the Sun."

The interpreter nodded, bowed, and spoke quickly to the white men. They, in turn, bowed, taking off their hats, and spoke. Finally the interpreter said, with a thick accent, "We thank you for your welcome. I am Sacajawea of the Shoshone People of the far north. And these are Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, representatives of the peoples of the United States of America. They bring official greetings from their great chief, President Thomas Jefferson."

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