"Monseiur," said Felix, bowing at the tent door, "I beg to inform you that Red Sky wishes to speak with you in private."
Jean-Baptiste looked up from his letters, surprised. "What, now? Is she here?"
"No, Monsieur, she is in the Haudenosaunee camp. She wishes to see you there. I was informed so by her messenger."
Jean-Baptiste stood up. "Thank you. Please reply that we will be there in five minutes."
Felix bowed and left. Jean-Baptiste looked in the mirror, tying his cravat hastily (not that Red Sky would care, really, but Jean-Baptiste knew he would be more at ease if he felt presentable), pulled on his jacket, and went out. It was barely light, and quite foggy, so that the great trees were columns rising up into a glowing mist. Felix met him and led him toward the Haudenosaunee camp.
"What is this about, Felix?"
"It seems some news has come in the night, Monsieur. The messenger seemed rather agitated."
"Then that will probably be good for our negotiations."
"Why do you say that, Monsieur?"
"Because if they are worried, they are more likely to sign defense agreements with us."
"Yes, sir. Unless it is we who are worrying them, Monsieur."
"Unlikely, Felix. Besides, we -- "
A Haudenosaunee warrior met them at the edge of the camp, and without a word, led them to the central fire. There was Red Sky, a slight woman with regal bearing and braided hair hanging below her waist, wearing a simple leather dress. She was talking with a man who looked sleepy. Next to her, propped up on blankets, was a man who was gashed and bleeding in several places, and had lost his arm; he was being tended by two men and a woman with herbs, hot water, and bandages. Other Haudenosaunee went to and fro, bringing food, water, and other necessities, or simply stood nearby, speaking in low voices.
Red Sky turned to him. Jean-Baptiste had no idea of her age, beyond a vague sense that she was older than 25 and younger than 60. But he always had trouble telling how old Indians were.
"Welcome," she said, in excellent French. "Thank you for coming at this early hour."
"It was not a problem," he said. "What is going on?"
Red Sky gestured at the wounded man. "This is one of our warriors," she said, "a Seneca. He was captured and tortured for two weeks by soldiers of the Great Sun. He escaped just two days ago, and arrived in the night."
"He ran for two days, in that condition?" said Jean-Baptiste, amazed. "From where?"
"No, he rode, on a stolen horse," she said proudly. "From the Ohio Fork."
"Ohio Fork?..." said Jean-Baptiste. Felix whispered, "About 170 miles northeast of here, monsieur. Where the Monongahela River joins the Ohio. Over the mountains."
"That's a long way to ride," said Jean-Baptiste. "But -- you say the soldiers of the Great Sun were there?"
"They have been coming up the Ohio from the Moon River," said Red Sky. "More of them, and faster, in the last couple of generations, since they have been using more horses. Many tribes between them and us have asked to join the Haudenosaunee Confederation for mutual protection."
"They have come a very long way west, then," said Jean-Baptiste.
"Yes," said Red Sky. "They can come up the river very quickly, if they wish."
"So it is difficult to defend against them."
"They are devils," said the wounded man suddenly. He was sitting up now, sipping a hot drink; his nurse was beside him, mixing medicine in a bowl. His eyes were bloodshot, but he did not look crazed or wild, just weary and sorrowful.
"Tell us more," said Jean-Baptiste.
The man glanced at Red Sky, who nodded. Then he said, in halting French, "I was the leader of the Seneca war party. The People of the Middle Waters asked us to come help them, because they heard that soldiers of the Great Sun were coming up the river. But by the time we got there, they were already there, and had made a big camp at the Ohio Fork. Too many for us to fight. We tried to watch them for a while, but we were discovered, and many of us caught. Then they wanted to ask us many questions -- who were we, how many warriors, how many villages. We would not answer, so they killed many of us, and others, they hurt, but did not kill."
"La torture," said Red Sky.
"Yes," said the man. "But I stole a horse, and escaped."
Jean-Baptiste said, "Thank you. You have been loyal and brave." He turned to Red Sky. "What will you do?"
"We will send more warriors," said Red Sky confidently, but Jean-Baptiste could tell she was worried.
"By all means, do so," he said. "Do you have enough to defeat the Great Sun's soldiers and save the captives?"
"Maybe," said Red Sky.
"Maybe," said Jean-Baptiste. "But even if you do, that will not be the end of it. They will be back."
Red Sky just stared at the fire, her face expressionless. Jean-Baptiste wasn't sure if this was the right time, but he decided to make his push.
"Red Sky, listen to me," he said. "Let us help you. We will give you guns. We will send military advisors, and train your warriors. In emergencies, we will send troops. The Great Sun is strong, but he cannot stand against the French army; it is the greatest in the world. If you agree quickly, we may be able to help you recover your hostages. And we ask very little in return."
Red Sky still looked at the fire, saying nothing.
"An exclusive trade agreement, as we discussed," said Jean-Baptiste. "You do not trade much with other European powers, so I do not think it will be a hardship for you. Favorable terms for French goods, which I think is only fair. And the approval of the French crown is required before you make agreements with other tribes or nations. I can assure you that the Emperor is very understanding in these matters, and -- "
The wounded man made a short, sharp remark in his own language, and Red Sky laughed. Jean-Baptiste was shocked into silence.
"I am sorry," she said. "That was rude of us. He said only that white men must always fill silence with words." She stared at him then for a few moments, and as the pause lengthened, Jean-Baptiste found himself having to resist the urge to answer her.
At last she smiled and sighed. "Monsieur," she said, "I thank you for your offer. I will tell you what is in my heart."
She sat down, and gestured for him to do the same. Then she drew out of her pack several beautiful beaded belts decorated with designs that looked like trees or diamonds. Jean-Baptiste recognized them as wampum, and knew that in some way they represented tribal treaties and allegiances.
"This is the loyalty and trust of the Long House People," she said. "Given to me for these negotiations with you and the Cherokee. This is a sacred trust. For these people today, and for seven generations of our children, I must decide whether to take your offer."
She paused. "Obviously it is a very important decision," said Jean-Baptiste. "I think, though, that once you think it through, you will -- " He saw that she was looking at him in annoyance, and fell silent again.
"Thought requires silence," she said. She carefully put the wampum back in her pack. "Jean-Baptiste, you say that you are not asking much of us. To trade only with the French, this means the French control our trade. To give you good trading terms, is this not what you call d'impôt, a tax? And on top of this, we must seek the blessing of the French emperor before we make agreements. Does this not make us his subjects?"
"No!" cried Jean-Baptiste. "You do not understand. That isn't it at all. The tribes will be free. And remember that the Great Sun -- "
"We may be called free," said Red Sky. "But when the French troops come, will they eat our food and take our goods, in payment for defending us? Will they seize our lands so that they may be farmed by Frenchmen? Will churches be built in our towns? Will we be permitted to raise our weapons against the French soldiers if we are mistreated? If there is a disagreement between the soldiers and our people, who will decide justice?
"Jean-Baptiste," she said, before he could answer, "I should tell you that my father was Black Egret. Maybe you have heard of him?"
Jean-Baptiste gasped. "Of course," he said.
"He saw a great many things in Europe, and in France," she said. "I know how the common people there live. I do not wish to see the tribes become French."
Jean-Baptiste's mind raced. "If I may speak," he said, "I think you are overstating the case. The tribes will not be French. We can work out all these details of troop payment and quartering and missionary activity. We can make sure the tribes are protected. When the treaty is drawn up -- "
Red Sky smiled. "The writing on the paper may be very fine," she said drily.
"If you are saying we would violate the treaty -- " Jean-Baptiste felt himself growing angry, and struggled to bite his tongue. "Red Sky, the French do not violate our treaties. With all respect: I do not think you will get better terms from the Great Sun."
Red Sky only looked at the fire. "We will see what the Cherokee say," she said. "Thank you for speaking with me this morning, Jean-Baptiste."
The warrior led them back to the French camp. When they were out of earshot, Felix said, "I think that went well, monsieur."
"Do you?" said Jean-Baptiste. He sighed. "I have studied these people all my professional life, Felix, and every time I think I understand them I find myself back where I started. Five years I have known Red Sky, and only now she tells me who her father was."
"What will the Cherokee say?" asked Felix.
"I don't know," said Jean-Baptiste. "Tell you what. Let's go ask them."