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Authors: Christopher Farnsworth

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CHAPTER 23

FLORIDA

1528

S
HAKO SAW THE
Uzita die—everyone she’d ever known, her entire life—right before her eyes.

She forced herself to watch every moment from her hiding place in the trees, at the edge of the village. If she had arrived a little sooner, she might have warned her people. She was never far from the Uzita, even though she was no longer one of them. She could not bring herself to go too far.

Something between Shako and her father had broken when she pleaded for Simon’s life. The rage that had spilled out of him vanished, only to be replaced with a grim and relentless disgust. He would not speak to her for days afterward. No one else did, either. She was an outcast living in their midst.

He tried to explain it to her once. It was late at night, and they were alone in the ceremonial house, the place where no one lived but the spirits. He brought her inside. Shako wondered if he would finally hear her apologies.

But Hirrihigua wanted to speak, not to listen. He wanted to explain.

Her father said that when he learned the invaders were coming—the first time they heard rumors of strange, pale men with exotic weapons and animals, arriving in huge boats at their shores—he knew that it would be a fight for survival. Whatever else those weird visitors were, they were men. And men always behaved in the same way. They took what they could and they would not be satisfied until they had it all. As chief, Hirrihigua had seen years where famine threatened the Uzita. He’d made hard choices long before Shako and her siblings were born. There were times when he could see their future extinguished by too many hungry mouths. In those times, he had led his people against neighboring tribes and taken whatever they had, so that his own children might live. He knew why people looked to conquer others. He knew that no one ever left his home without looking to take something back to it. If the strange men had come all the way across the world, farther than anyone had ever gone before, then they must, naturally, expect to take more than anyone had ever taken before.

Given the chance, he knew they would find the Water. And they would drink it, and then they would swarm across the land, undying and eternally voracious, consuming everything in their path.

Hirrihigua would not allow that. Like all of the other chiefs before him, he knew that the Water was too dangerous. He swore, as they did, to protect it—which meant to keep the world safe from it, as well as keeping it from the world.

But he could not do that alone. This was why he’d promised her to Yaha. His tribe had to be stronger, had to be united, against the threat that was coming. Her happiness, her desires, they were small sacrifices to make for another generation of Uzita children. Shako hadn’t seen it because she did not want to believe in anything more than the immediate future. She was young. That was her failing. That alone might have been forgivable.

But to lie down with one of the invaders? To reveal to him their secrets? To betray everything she’d been since the day she was born?

“You brought him into our world,” he said. “You gave him yourself, and you gave him all of us as well.”

In her father’s eyes, she had become inhuman. There was no forgiving that.

She tried to speak, but he left her in the ceremonial house alone.

Her father’s last words to Shako came in front of the entire village. He gathered them all to hear.

He told her to go. To disappear. She had separated herself willingly from the Uzita, and so she could no longer be a part of them. She cried and pleaded. He would not answer her, even when tears began to roll down his own face. The other men and women—even her own brothers and sisters—threw rocks at her when she would not leave.

Despite her father’s order of exile, she could not bring herself to go very far. She lived in a small camp less than a mile away, hidden in a pocket of cypress and mangroves. Perhaps she still held out some hope of reconciliation, if not actual forgiveness. And there were those who left food out for her, and clothes, and other things she needed to survive. She learned to steal into the village in the dead of night, when her father’s sentries would deliberately look the other way.

Then one morning, she heard the screams coming from the village.

She rushed back, but the noise and smoke told her it was already too late. Still, she had to see. She climbed into a tree and, hidden by the leaves, watched the Spaniards destroy her world.

She saw children stuck on pikes. One brother cut in half by the exploding weapons of the conquistadors. Her mother stabbed, over and over. And her father’s corpse at the center of it all.

She saw Simón and his friends, too. Simón covered his eyes as he was dragged to safety, as if he could not stand to see what he’d caused.

His cowardice repulsed her. Every feeling she’d ever had for him curdled into disgust. She knew she was as much to blame for this as he was. But she would watch. She let the fires burn it all into her memory. Even as she wept, she would not allow herself to flinch.

She wanted to remember all of it. Every moment, every horror, and especially every face of every Spaniard.

As for Simón and the others, she would make each of them suffer. No matter how long it took. Because now she had nothing but time.

 

CHAPTER 24

WASHINGTON, D.C.

1837

T
HE WHITE HOUSE
smelled like an open toilet.

Simon had heard that the new president styled himself a man of the people. He’d heard about the inauguration that was open to every citizen and ended with most of the White House’s furniture stolen or in splinters.

But he did not imagine that this president’s common touch included the stink of feces in the air.

Simon had lived a long time already, and he supposed he should be grateful there were still some surprises left.

Max, at his side, made no comment, but kept a bright handkerchief soaked in perfume in front of his nose and mouth. It wasn’t because of any foresight or planning on his part. He’d rarely been without it since returning to America on this trip. He said there was a special kind of smell that existed only here: “a mongrel breed of a new form of odor.”

Despite the offense it caused everywhere they went, Simon found it difficult to reprimand Max for this. He was constantly appalled by the habits of these people himself. As poor as his family had ever been, they had held on to their dignity. They knew their place.

In America, any man felt comfortable speaking to them without a proper introduction and pressing his opinions on them. And once they heard that Simon and Max were from Spain, they were insufferably smug about their lack of royalty. In the pub where they had supper the night before, one man had even made a show of looking at Simon’s breeches. “I was wondering if they got worn out quicker from all the bowing and scraping,” the man had said, and the entire crowd had erupted in laughter.

Simon had considered killing the man but reminded himself that he had better things to do. There was a time when you could kill someone for insulting your honor, but he found people were growing increasingly intolerant of the practice. Times change.

He and Max were escorted up the stairs and into the presidential library on the second floor of the White House, and into the presence of the great man himself.

President Andrew Jackson.

Jackson sat behind a table covered with maps of Florida. His hair was white now, and his teeth were yellow, but the years had not bent him. His back was still ramrod straight, and the undeniable physical power that made men follow him was still there. Jackson looked up at them and dismissed their escort with a curt nod.

“Mr. President,” Max began, smiling and courteous, “please accept our belated congratulations on your elevation to office. We must apologize that we did not send our regards sooner.”

Jackson spat something brown and foul in the general direction of a spittoon. It hit the wall with a meaty sound instead.

It was not as easy as it once was to see Jackson. For all his talk of being a true democratic president, he’d learned to lock the White House doors in the past few years. The United States was still writhing in a financial crisis sparked by his shutdown of the federal bank, causing a massive explosion of credit and speculation, followed by an inevitable crash. There had been blood on the streets in the major cities as rioters screamed for food and jobs. Everyone wanted something from Jackson now.

Simon and Max had arranged for this meeting through the Freemasons. They were not members—Catholics were not allowed to join—but they had contacts within the organization that they used regularly. They’d found the Masons especially useful in forging new connections in the nascent United States, where it seemed nearly every man in public office was also a member of a lodge. They had paid their friendly Masons well. Under the Masonic code, Jackson would have found it difficult to refuse a request from them. But he clearly didn’t like it.

“You’ve only got so much of my time and patience today, sir,” Jackson said. “You want to waste it on pleasantries, that’s your right. But I’d suggest you come to the point a bit quicker.”

“The general is kind enough to be blunt,” Max said. “So we will return the favor. We are here to ask permission to bring a number of men and arms into Saint Petersburg, with an aim toward an expedition into the nearby jungle.”

Jackson laughed, which caused him to hawk and spit again. “Seems to me I went to a considerable amount of trouble to remove you Spaniards from Florida the first time I was there. I don’t know why I should let you back in now.”

Jackson had claimed Florida for the United States in 1817, when he led U.S. troops against the Seminoles in Florida on the command of President Monroe. He’d slaughtered as many of the Indian tribes as he could find, and then kicked Spain out of the territory completely. Spain had been too weak to offer more than diplomatic protests. It was another one of the victories that helped him forge the legend that led to his election as president.

Behind his scented silk, Max frowned. He was losing patience with this jumped-up warlord, and Simon couldn’t blame him.

“I believe we’ve already paid you well for passage into Florida,” Max said. “Do you forget your promises? Or are you simply seeking more coin now that you’ve bankrupted your country?”

Jackson’s scowl grew even deeper. “That’s enough out of you,” he said. “You get the hell out of here. I’ve never taken a single damned piece of Spanish silver, and I’ll see you with pistols if you spread that slander around.”

Simon sat down, since it was clear there would never be an invitation from the president. “More than a piece and more than silver,” he said. “And while the general is a fierce dueler, I don’t think he would be happy if he raised pistols against either of us.”

Jackson glared at them both. And then the expression on his face changed as he looked—really looked—at them.

“Hell and damnation,” he said quietly.

Simon smiled. “It hasn’t been so long, has it, sir?”

Jackson’s mouth remained open. They had last seen him when he was the territorial governor of Florida. He’d been a young man then. So had they. Now he was old. And they had not aged a day.

“Impossible,” Jackson said. “I must have dealt with your fathers.”

“Tell yourself that if you like,” Simon said. “Either way, you were well paid for unlimited passage into and out of Florida.”

It was an easy favor to grant. Florida was still too wild and too vast, and the United States too small to offer much in the way of government. Simon and the others did not feel any special loyalty to Spain by then; they’d become a power unto themselves. Having lived more than two centuries already, they had learned that countries were made up of men, and kings were nothing more than men on thrones. They thought they had more right to call Florida their property than Spain, or the fledgling nation known as America.

When Jackson left Florida, the Seminole tribes were mostly left to themselves. Simon and his men continued to move in and out of the area with little or no interference.

That had changed over the years, however. American settlers kept moving south, as did escaped slaves. Clashes between them and the local tribes gave Jackson the excuse he needed to send the army into Florida again.

However, the Second Seminole War was not going as well as the first. This time, the U.S. troops were not up against largely unarmed and unprepared tribes. This time, the Indians knew what was coming; they fought a guerrilla war against the invading forces, using their knowledge of the swamps and forests to hide and harass the American troops.

A company of 110 soldiers was attacked by the Seminoles. Only three survived. Shortly after that, more than a hundred commissioned officers resigned from the army, rather than go to Florida. Every attempt to find and punish the Seminoles failed. The Indians simply melted into the swamps and disappeared.

Simon and the Council were, admittedly, caught off guard by the conflict. They were long-lived, but they could be shortsighted. They didn’t believe Jackson would mount a full assault with the United States reeling from a massive depression.

But Jackson took the presence of escaped slaves living in Florida, as well as the Indian tribes who defied him, as a personal insult. He wouldn’t have a lawless refuge within the United States’ borders.

Any pale face in Florida was now a target. Villages were burned. Settlers fled back north. The army retaliated by slaughtering whole tribes. No one was safe, and there was no end in sight. The entire war was rapidly becoming a quagmire, with Jackson second-guessing his commanders and changing generals at every disappointment and defeat.

As a result, the Council found itself cut off from its supply of the Water for the first time.

Simon and the others did not panic. They still had thousands of gallons of the Water in storage. But the lesson of Miruelo weighed heavily on them; after living so long, none of them had become any more reconciled to the thought of dying.

And there was another, more personal reason for Simon to return to Florida as well.

Jackson shook off his unease and put up his brave face again. Simon expected as much. Successful generals dealt with the facts in front of them, not the hidden truths behind.

“Even if you are who you say you are, I can’t be held to promises made twenty years ago,” Jackson insisted.

“Your word is only good for a limited time?” Max asked. “What a new and innovative concept of honor you Americans hold.”

If looks could have killed, Jackson would not have needed to duel either Simon or Max right then.

“My compact was with your fathers,” he said stubbornly. “Not you.”

“You misunderstand us, General,” Simon said. “We’re not here to take something from you. We are here to offer you a solution to your war. One of the reasons your generals have been unable to deal with the natives is because they do not know the territory. Those maps you are looking at? They haven’t been updated since you fought there. Your soldiers can’t even find your enemies, much less fight them. We, however, have been in the territory countless times. We know the terrain. We know the tribes.”

Jackson snorted. “The day I need help from a perfumed Spaniard to win a war, I truly will be damned. If that’s all you’re offering, go home. The United States will prevail, as always, without any European interference.”

“Somewhat hard to prevail against warriors who can’t be killed,” Max said. “We’ve heard that the fiercest Seminole warriors have taken wounds that would end another man, but they show up again, and again, and again, as whole and healthy as ever.”

Jackson looked startled for a moment, then regained his iron composure.

“Stories,” he said. “One savage looks very much like another. It’s easy to confuse them on the battlefield.”

“I’m sure.” Max smiled. “Even so, your men must be suffering from some fear, if they’re spreading these kinds of ghost stories.”

Jackson said nothing.

Simon rose and crossed to Jackson’s desk. He leaned down and looked the man in the face. “Look at us, Mr. President. Do you really believe these are just stories? Or that we are the sons of the men who paid you twenty years ago?”

Jackson held Simon’s gaze for a moment, then turned away. “And you propose to come in and save me? You might be sorcerers,” Jackson said, “but there are still only two of you. Unless you have an army hidden up your sleeves, I don’t see how you’re going to do any better than my generals.”

“Let us into Florida, and we can stop these unkillable warriors. We can end the problem at its source. And we will deliver you a trophy that will break the spirit of the renegades.”

Jackson sat back in his chair. He finally met Simon’s eyes again.

“Just how do you propose to do that, sir?”

Simon smiled. He knew he had the man now.

“We can bring you the Seminole Witch,” he said.

AT FIRST SIMON THOUGHT
it was just bad luck.

They would lose things. They used Narváez’s money to finance a small expedition inland into America, searching for more gold and possibly more sources of the Water. It started on the same path they did in Florida, and then vanished without a trace.

They attempted a small armed settlement near the site of the Uzita village. That was sacked by Indian raiders, and only a few of their hired men escaped to tell them about it.

This was not surprising, or even unexpected. America was a dangerous place. People died. Simon and the others decided it was better to leave the Fountain unguarded, and let the savages do the work of eliminating any Europeans who might stumble upon the secret. They were still able to make trips in and out of the territory, and they could visit the Fountain whenever they needed to. Besides, they had hundreds of casks of the Water, and a few sips were all it took to keep them young and healthy.

Then in 1573, a shipment of their gold was hijacked by the English pirate Francis Drake. All of Spain’s holdings and territories in the New World had become a machine that cranked out nothing but wealth by that time. Now called the Spanish Main, the area produced gold, silver, gems, and spices, and then shipped it all back to Europe. The Council had extensive holdings throughout the Americas. They were shipping nearly twenty tons of the natives’ gold and silver from a port called Nombre de Dios.

The shipment never made it out of port. Drake and his men stole it from the mule train carrying the treasure overland. They managed to escape despite hundreds of troops chasing them through the jungle.

This was the first time Simon heard the rumors. The Spanish troops reported that Drake had a native woman with him—a copper-skinned, dark-eyed witch who fought like ten men and had some sort of Indian magic that kept her from dying even when she was severely wounded.

Most people who heard the tales thought the soldiers were making up excuses for their own failure.

Only Simon knew differently.

Shako was alive.

Somehow, she had survived.

And she wanted revenge for her people. She blamed Simon and the others. Of course she did. He knew how it must have looked. She would have found her people slaughtered, and she would have known someone had been in the cave. She was out to kill them all, because they were the only ones left.

The other members of the Council were reluctant to believe him at first. Her own father had said she was dead. But Simon reminded them all that they should have been dead by now, too. Death was not as final as it should have been for anyone who knew the secret of the Water.

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