Monday, June 10, 2013

Hawk

My father was captain of the militia and men was saddling up. I could hear horses snorting in the dark and the jangle of bits and bridles. Mother turned up the lamp as my father pulled on his boots and had words with his corporal.

The Piankeshaw had attacked again, this time at Hardin’s farm. The corporal lowered his voice so my mother might not hear the worst of it.

“They cut ‘im down, cap’n. Scalped ‘im and set the cabin afire and took captive Missus Hardin.”

My father asked how many they were. Number of muskets. Their direction of travel. Whilst the corporal told what he knew, my father gathered up his kit, his long rifle, powder horn and lead, and his tomahawk.

“Don’t expect us back any time soon, mother,” he said. Quiet, like he was going hunting.

“Daniel,” he said my name. “I know yer awake there, boy. You mind things til I git back.”

The ropes creaked on my bed as I propped on my elbow and nodded from the shadows. “Y’sir, pa.”

The company rode south and Mother turned back down the lamp. I waited some minutes afore telling her I was going to the privy. In the dark, she did not see me take my rifle.

My father’s pack horse was a roan we called “Crab.” I put a bridle on her and put my heels to her and went after my father’s men bareback.

I found their mounts hobbled one side of a ridge running alongside the river Ouabache. The sky was turning to gray with the coming light and I belly crawled up the ridge, flanking my father’s men like they was flanking the Piankeshaw.

As I crested the ridge and peered my head around a pin oak, the militia’s guns opened up. The company had divvied theyselves into three squadrons, one driving up the middle toward Miz Hardin, lashed by her neck to a sycamore as I could see. The second squadron swept the braves north and into the waiting third. A hammer on an anvil.

My father was not one to raise his voice at our mother. He was a deacon. The Presbyterians met for worship in our barn. He whipped me only when I had it coming.

Here though, he ran ahead of his men like a bull at the head of a buffalo herd rumbling down the Trace. What didn’t git from their path, they trampled and left bloody. When my father’s guns was emptied, he went to his tomahawk and wielded it like a scythe. A farmer of men, he felled them one and another.

I kept my head low whilst here and there a ball would whiz by, or hit close and take a notch out of my tree. My father was now to the sycamore and he was chopping through the leather straps that bound Miz Hardin. My father did not see the Piankeshaw stalking up behind him. But I did.

My father’s law was that our rifles stayed charged, and I generally followed his law. Other than being here along this river, I should say. That day prior, just after supper, I had fired this rifle and followed his law and recharged it with fresh powder and ball and I thanked Providence for this.

I worked by feel and did not take my eyes from my father. His back was to that Piankeshaw moving up on him from tree to tree. The Indian’s face was painted red with black streaks slashing cross his cheeks and he carried a ball headed war club in one hand and a blade in the other. My father’s men was engaged in their own fights and I dared not call out lest I show myself.

I rolled to one side and fumbled for the smaller horn that carried my priming powder. I bit down and pulled out the stopper with my teeth and spit it to one side. I tapped a measure of powder into the pan and snapped down the frizzen. One tree was between the brave and my father.

I shouldered my rifle and made my estimation on wind and distance and sighted in and dropped him with a ball between the shoulders. Even from my distance, I could hear him grunt as he went to his knees. My father heard it also. He turned and seen the Piankeshaw still reaching out with that knife and that’s when he swung his hawk in a great oerhead arc and split the brave’s brainpan like a melon.

The skirmish ended and I stayed hid. Of the Piankeshaw lying afield, I heard splashes as my father’s men pitched their bodies into the Ouabache. Then the company collected up Miz Hardin and their kit and rode out.

I figured I was in for it when I got back. But I hain’t been on a battlefield before, and I was going to see this’un up close. I came from behind my pin oak and light footed my way down the ridge face. On the ground, I seen a deerskin breechclout. Earth and leaves soaked dark in men's blood. A blanket. The leather straps that held Miz Hardin.

I stepped on something hard, kicked over by leaves. I reached and came up with my father’s tomahawk, the handle slick with blood. On the iron head, the image of a long knife was inlaid in silver. Colonel Small made this hawk for my father, like the one he made for Colonel Knox.

I wiped the blood from the handle. My rifle ball had dropped that Piankeshaw and my father’s blow had finished him. I slid the hawk into my belt. I was fourteen and in for a whipping.




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Story originally submitted to NPR's Three-Minute Fiction, Round 11 (May 2013)

600-word limit, story to contain a "character who finds an object he has no intent of returning"

2 comments:

Neehar Gupta said...

Fantastic! I was on the edge of my seat hoping Daniel would take down the Piankeshaw in time. Good stuff!!

Joe said...

Hey Neehar,

Thanks! Glad you liked it!

j