Chapter 1 - Fire
Kuwômôyush - I Love You
Based on the true story of Rebecca, daughter of the Grand Sachem of the Montauk and Lieutenant Francis Bell, a British colonial officer.
Christopher L Smith
Chapter 1 - Fire
***The English settlers first arrived in the Connecticut and New York area of the new world in 1633. These events take place shortly after their arrival.
She stared at the flames intently, like she could see stories in the flickers. The flames were intended to send a message, but there was no malice in them. Like the fire, and as with everything her father did, there was a bold, unmistakable conviction. The kind that purified all things.
The expression on his face was unwavering. She had seen all versions of him, but the moments when he slipped from diplomatic to resolute always caught her off guard. There was no confusion in the decidedness, especially in the light of the flame.
Despite being a distance from the fire, she could feel the heat, which told her that her father felt it much more. Still, he stood unwavering. Her eyes wandered a bit to the hard lines on his face, appearing deeper in the orange lighting of the fire, a reminder that time didn’t pass by without living its print on you. There was a story for every line, and her father could never forget it.
“Chief,” a voice cut through the silence.
The voice caught her off guard, and she must have rustled the bushes she had been hiding in, but her father gave no reaction if he heard. She was still a little on edge, and watching him had been a little settling, but there was still so much happening around her.
Their tribe was still in unrest. There were questions floating in the air, as well as confusion and uncertainty. That’s all there ever was now - uncertainty. All the time, it felt like they were being cornered and surrounded. Only her father had kept it at bay, but even now, that was seeming increasingly insufficient.
The voice that broke the silence belonged to one of the tribe men. She couldn’t make out everything that he had said but heard enough to let her know that the assassin had been alone. A lone wolf among what he had thought were sheep. The man left, and her father’s attention turned back to the flame.
“Rebecca,” he called without particularly looking up at her or in her direction.
Of course, he knew she was there. His senses were hardly, if ever, off. She moved out of hiding and into plain sight, going over to meet her father.
“This is no place for a woman, Rebecca,” he said, his voice carrying all the resolution his face and stance bore.
Her father wasn’t anything if not a protector, and she knew what he meant. He had decided to do this on his own because he knew the implications, there was a weight to this, and he didn’t mind bearing it.
“I didn’t want you to be alone, baba,” Rebecca answered, sporting some resolution of her own as she stood beside her father. Wyandanch stared at his daughter, and for a moment, his form softened.
In his mind, he did all this for her. Everything. Everyone saw different sides of him and a myriad of motives, but ultimately, he was just a father, and his family was his greatest priority. He had grown up around war and strife all his life. His people couldn’t remember a time before it, and trying to imagine what it would be like afterward seemed pointless, but still, he tried.
He hadn’t wanted to do this, but it was necessary. They had to show strength, and sometimes, like the earth, strength was crude. It was as unforgiving as the ocean that had brought these strangers to their lands, as unkind as the wild in which he had grown all his life.
Rebecca watched as her father’s form stiffened and his eyes drifted off her. He was lost in thought again as he often was lately. After all the commotion of the evening, there was a lot to get lost in thought about. She knew he couldn’t help it.
Tonight had been meant to be a night of celebration. Weeks of discussions had led to an alliance that would have both solidified her father's position and, more importantly, kept the tribe safe. It was getting harder to keep out of the conflicts that kept happening with the white men, and this was crucial.
The chief of the Shinnecock, Mandush, had come for the celebration. There wasn’t a lot to rejoice about here, and so moments like this were of special importance. There was laughter and music, and for some moments, they let themselves forget that they were in the middle of a world that was evolving faster than they could manage.
Hosting Mandush was an honor for her father, one that he did not take lightly, and that’s why what happened could not be forgiven or overlooked in the slightest. Her eyes went to her father’s headdress and regalia. He was in full glory tonight. He had chosen to honor the Shinnecock as they had honored him with their agreement.
They had the sense that it wasn’t safe, but they refused to live in fear, much less let themselves be controlled by a sheer likelihood that had not yet become a reality.
This was the reality.
Her father turned and began to walk away from the fire. She walked along with him. The attack had disrupted their settlement, and they needed to calm things down. The assassin had been taken care of, and now he had to focus on his people.
Assassin. The idea troubled him as he pondered about it. No doubt this had been the work of Ninigret, sachem of the Niantics, but had things really gone this far down the wrong path?
He hated how much people seemed to only ever see death and killing as the only way to get anything that they wanted. In his mind, they were all connected. Every person in every tribe and even in ways that they wouldn’t admit, the Englishmen encroaching on their borders were connected. They all were ultimately alike, if nothing else, but each in their own desire to see their own plans through.
Ninigret had definitely gone too far, and it was both sad and terrifying to imagine how much further he was willing to go. In times like these, was there even such a concept as going too far? The fire would be considered the same saner times, but here they were.
Unfortunate as the entire situation was, Wynandanch could see an opportunity. Their alliance with the Shinnecock was now stronger than ever. He moved from being the man who they were making an alliance with to the man who saved their Sachem’s life in just the space of a few hours.
What was it to him? Many of his people thought that his ability to mediate and form bonds between two people was some of a gift. The truth, however, was that he always paid attention. He kept his eyes open, he watched, and he listened.
Being in tune with his environment helped him pick out the anomalies. He had taught his children this, and the only one who had struggled with getting the lesson before learning it had been Rebecca. He turned slightly in her direction and immediately saw her react. It made him chuckle.
For him, the assassin had stuck out like a sore thumb. Ninigret had chosen the opportunity where the two tribes would be mixed to send in someone who wasn’t a part of them to carry out his plan. If things had happened differently, it wouldn’t just have been the end of their fresh alliance, but it would have been the immediate beginning of a war.
Patience was short these days, and forgiveness was almost entirely a thing of the past. Wyandanch was one of the few who still saw it as one of the very few paths through which they could all survive for as long as they wanted.
Nature forgave them for hunting and let them hunt some more. The earth forgave them for taking its fruit and let them plant season after season. The ocean’s forgiveness let them still find sustenance every time they went back to it. Why couldn’t they all see how much the earth tried to teach them about forgiveness?
He shook his head at the hypocrisy and how unforgiving they had been of the assassin. There was no salvaging it, and he would have if he could. He had tried to take the life of a Sachem, and the Shinnecock would have accepted no other restitution but payment with his own life. There were no deliberations about it and what was to be done afterward.
They burnt the body.
He hated that it was something that they had to do, but he had offered to do it himself. Every man deserved some form of honor, and despite the act itself being an insult to Ninigret, doing it himself felt like the least he could do for the Niantic, who had likely felt honored to have been sent on this mission.
Ultimately, while this had drawn the Montaukett and the Shinnecock closer, it had definitely put a wider rift between them and the Niantic. No matter how hard he tried, all the pieces never seemed to want to fit perfectly together. The 13 tribes were hardly any different, but the variations between them, however slight, seemed to drive a deep wedge in between.
They had all seen the war. The Pequot had been decimated by the same ruthlessness that they all now wielded. Most saw the war as a reason, more than ever, to resent these men who had come to their borders and were encroaching on their lands.
For men like Ninigret, the brutal force had to be met with the same. War had to be fought in order to show superiority. As they were being edged in and their lands silently slipping from their grasp, fear drove the desire to war, but ultimately war drove them only faster to their end.
Where they all only saw reason to fight and spill blood, Wynandanch saw what he knew was the truth - in war, there were no winners. The lands you fought over would be consumed in blood, bodies, and fires. The resentments never went away. Life was cut short too soon, and everyone was left with only pain and regret.
That was why he tried so hard to always see and show another way. Too many people had been lost to these fights for him to still see them as the only way.
Wyandanch was now back at the settlement with his daughter. There was a lot less chaos than there was when he took the body to find some secluded place to burn it. He hadn’t expected his daughter to come with him, but she was a grown woman now. He could no longer control her every move, nor did he wish to.
Admittedly, she hadn’t followed her as carefully as she imagined she did. He had known she was there for most of the time and had even been a little amused by her attempts at stealth. He truly hadn’t wanted anyone else to be there, but he couldn’t reject the company.
Mandush and his tribesmen were still at the settlement but were making obvious preparations to leave. They likely had just waited to be sure that it was done. They were bent on sending a message, and they wanted it loud and clear.
Ridding off the assassin’s body in as dishonorable a manner as they just did was a spit in Ninigret’s face, just as the sheer attempt to murder their Sachem had been to them. They would make sure that word got to Ninigret of the act - that he knew that the body had been burnt and that the alliance stood.
This was their confidence in the newfound strength of their alliance, and it did not feel too soon to wield it. Some things just could not be forgiven lightly.
Wyandanch nodded at the Shinnecock Chief, and he grunted his response as he walked up to meet him. They weren’t going to speak about this anymore. They just needed confirmation that it had been done, and it had.
“I am saddened that we have to part with our celebrations ending so prematurely,” Mandush said as they met.
“This is only a beginning, and beginnings are rarely ever smooth. I’m sure that there are happier times ahead,” Wynandach replied, hopeful about the opportunities this brought.
“Ever the wise man,” Mandush chuckled, “You would teach wisdom to the crops if you could”
“If only I could get them still enough to listen,” he replied, laughing for a moment. Soon, his expression got serious again. “I would have you be careful. I sense that a lot will be happening in the coming weeks. Ninigret is growing bolder if this has shown anything. There’s no telling what he is capable of”.
A flash of seriousness crossed Mandush’s face, but then he turned his attention to Rebecca. “Would you tell your father that he worries too much?” he remarked, “I hear you are to be wed soon?”
Suddenly it felt like all eyes were on her and the thought made her shrink a little. These were leaders trying to shape their tribes, and they were all focused on her. The events of the night had caused her to completely forget about her reality - that she was to be married to one of the tribesmen in a few days.
She nodded her response to Mandush, who reached out to touch her forehead like her own father often did. Her father often told her he was proud, but in moments like this, she could feel it radiating off him.
Mandush looked at her father and then turned to leave, and Wynandanch stepped forward to place his hands on his daughter's shoulder as they watched the Shinnecock leave.
Rebecca mulled on her father’s words to the Shinnecock Sachem - a lot will be happening in the coming weeks. She didn’t know what to make of it, but it left a chill in her spine that she wasn’t comfortable with. Her father was hardly ever wrong.
She was about to get wed, not for much else but that it seemed like the right thing to do next. She was about to start a family of her own, but there was still so much unrest, still, so much that was in flux.
She knew that it could be better, but this uncertainty was all she had known, like her father before her, and waiting for it to be undone seemed like she was always going to be waiting. Somehow she had to keep on living regardless of the unrest and that was what she was going to do.
She didn’t know what would happen in the coming weeks, but she knew what was happening for her in the coming days. She would be married and that would be the start of her own family - an extension of her people and heritage.
“Rebecca!” someone beckoned to her from somewhere in the settlement.
She had been gone for too long and she knew that she was needed. She looked at her father before turning to leave, watching his face as he smiled at her.
She worried about him always, but she knew he was going to be fine. He had to be. They were all depending on him.