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Thursday, December 23, 2004

THE HEAD OF DE SOTO 

FROM THE NOVEL: CRIES FOR A VISION BY JACK RANDOM.

Tohocua burned with a fire that would never cease. He hated the invaders from across the great waters with a passion that refused to abate in time. Even now that the conquistadors had been driven from their lands, now that their heads rested on stakes, eyes open to the celebration of their defeat. Even now, the memory of Umpiqua, a massacre of old men, women and children, burned in his soul. Even now, he remembered the horror in his daughter’s eyes when he rescued her from De Soto’s camp in the stealth of night.

For seven moons before this day, he carried the death of his wife from the black robe disease, the killing of his sons in battle, the abduction and rape of his daughter in a heart too heavy with grief. It was not enough to kill these men, not enough to cut off their heads, not enough to burn them at the stake or dismember their bodies. No torture yet invented could satisfy his need or the need of his people for revenge.

Tohocua had himself witnessed the conquistadors’ excess on the battlefield. Sword against spear, steel against carved wood and stone, they pressed their advantage with a brutality unknown to the people of the mounds. They enslaved the men, raped the women, killed the children and humiliated the chiefs.

All of the conquistadors – Cortez, De Leon and De Soto – had scorched the land from Florida to Mississippi, leaving behind a vast trail of destruction and disease. They were a plague upon the earth and now, at long last, the plague was vanquished.

As leader of the seven tribes, Tohocua sat on his throne atop the tallest of seven earthen mounds in a forest clearing beneath a sky of a million stars, his body still aching for Spanish blood, his heart pulsating with righteous indignation, crying out for still more vengeance. With a wave of his hand, he acknowledged the people below and they roared their approval at a shooting star, a sign of the gods, as a thousand drums pounded in unison, sending forth a reverberation that shook the trees, boiled blood and raised hot spirits in the victorious night. Five hundred warriors, their golden skin still glistening with the sweat of battle, danced around blazing fires, flames reaching to the heavens.

Tohocua gave them what they longed to see with their own eyes, thrusting before them the head of De Soto, himself, still encased in the silver crown of the Spanish cock, the headdress of the conquistador. It was a sickening sight, almost unrecognizable for the disease that marked it with sores and stole what little color it once possessed, yet the people were satisfied and rose as one in a deafening roar. This was the proof they required that the evil ones, the fearless warriors with coats of steel no arrow could pierce, the white eyes with fire sticks and strange dark magic, the shameless ones who killed everyone and everything they could not use or possess, the monsters were finally dead.

He held the trophy out to the warriors who had joined together to track and fight this powerful foe, who defeated and pushed him from the continent. He heaved it into their midst where the strongest battled for the prize, for the honor of being the one to stake it and light the fire that would burn the darkness from the mind, the heart and the memory of the people.

Surely, the enemy would never return. Surely, when the survivors told what happened here, how the tribes united against them, they would no longer venture into the land of the Mound Builders. Surely, the Great Spirit would deny them passage. Surely, they would recognize that the balance had tipped against them. Surely, they were not so bold, so full of themselves that they would march again into the cauldron of destruction.

On the one occasion when Tohocua spoke to the Conquistadors directly, he told them that the only way to defeat the people that belonged to the land was to kill them all.

He felt the presence of his daughter at his side, her body warm and her eyes aglow in firelight. He brushed her silken hair from her golden cheek and remembered the girl she had been. She was a woman now. The Spaniards made her a woman before her time but they could not take from her the spark that was her own. They could not kill her spirit.

She had her mother’s eyes and, like her mother, she was groomed to one day take a seat in the counsel of elders. Perhaps she would fulfill her destiny after all. It warmed his heart to see her come alive. In her eyes resided the hope of all her people. In her eyes, as the head of De Soto was engulfed in flames below, the future revealed itself in slow moving, flowing, changing pictures. As the celebration erupted, drums pounding, fire and dance, singing, feasting and laughter, Tohocua saw the truth and it changed his heart to stone.

He saw the white man’s boats with towering white sails emerge on the eastern horizon in hundreds, then thousands, then too many to count. He saw them transformed into titans of steel with smoke billowing from chambers of fire. He saw the invaders swarming over the land like a cloud of locusts, blocking the sun and choking the earth. He saw the forests reduced to barren landscapes. He saw rivers of fire and skies thick with poisons. He saw his brethren spirits of the forest – deer, elk, mountain lion, bear, beaver, hawk and eagle – hunted for their skins, for feathers and for sport. He saw the people walk the western trail into the dying sun, heads bowed, ravaged with hunger and disease, their spirits broken. He saw them captured and held like the white man’s spotted cows, whipped, chained, beaten and forced to march the long path to the land where death awaited. He saw once proud warriors and women with white painted faces and others hiding in the shadows of the sacred mountains. He saw himself alone on this same earthen mound, only now it was covered in tall grass and he was chief to no one.

The earth rumbled and the vision was shaken from his view. He looked to the skies where dark clouds swallowed the moon and blocked the stars. The people stopped dancing, singing, celebrating, the drums stopped pounding, owls halted in their silent flight, cicada stopped chirping, and even the fireflies stopped flying as a fresh new wave of dark silence washed over them. The people turned to their chief, expecting some reassurance, a show of defiance and strength, but the chief had nothing more to give. He had seen tomorrow and it left him dumb.

A clap of thunder and rain buckled from the clouds and the people broke for shelter. Tohocua reached for his daughter’s shoulder but found no one in her place. The earth crumbled beneath his feet and blood red clay swallowed him to the waist. Through his daughter’s eyes he saw her running through the trees in endless circles of fright, chasing echoes, following shadows and reflections, her fear building with every step, with every bog and hollow, searching for the way out, searching for a tunnel of light, searching for her father, her fearless chief, searching for her people and a way of life that no longer existed.

The people cowered behind boulders, in caverns and caves, beneath rotting wood and fallen leaves, hiding like corpses in shallow graves. Everywhere the black robes, the twisted shamans of the conquistadors, wandered the earth and wherever they walked, death followed.

He heard his daughter scream but he could not answer. His heart in his throat, he could not cry out. He heard her torment but the earth gripped his legs, swallowed his body and he could not move. He heard her struggle followed by silence, followed by dead cold empty silence, and still he could not move.

[Editor’s Note: To date, the only successful occupation of a foreign land is that of the Europeans in North America. That it was achieved by genocide is undeniable fact.]

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