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Tuesday Teaser 1/10/17: Victoria’s Cat Part 2

NOTE: This is coming out slightly early because on Tuesday evening  I am doing the cover reveal for Brave Hearts.

Ready for the next bit in Victoria’s Cat? This is a bit info-dumpy. That is, there are several paragraphs where I just list the information that I think the reader needs to know, kind of like an encyclopedia entry. I will go back and blend that in a little more smoothly when I revise. Also, the description of the council is wordy and confusing. Please be gracious and overlook the awkwardness.  🙂

 

Councils were held in the open area in the center of the camp. During the summer, when the clan roamed over the prairie, or when they were staying in the winter camp, the camp was set out in concentric circles of houses or lodges. Councils were always held in the open ground in the center of camp. The clan didn’t have a lot of laws like the towns did, but tradition ruled them. Councils open to every member of the clan, and every member of the clan was expected to attend and participate. As Alpha, her father had the final word in all decisions, but he rarely made a big decision without the input of his clan.

Victoria stepped into the open area in the center of camp where the clan were already assembling. The Council attendees sat in a circle around a fire. There were over two hundred people living in the winter camp, so the circle was four rows deep. Her father and mother, as Alpha and Lupa, were in the innermost the circle. The two dozen women of the clan sat on either side of them, flanked by her father’s betas and the holy men. The human women felt the cold more than the wolf warriors did, so they were so bundled up in coats, hats, and scarves their faces could barely be seen. The second circle consisted of the clan’s greatest warriors. The third and fourth circles were made up of the rest of the clan. Victoria moved through the Council to the deer hide laid over the snow at her mother’s side.

Council was not the place to chat or giggle. People came, unrolled canvas or leather mats, and sat down in silence. They were probably wondering what the Council was about, and wondering why Sky was here. Sky sat beside her father, silent and solemn. Victoria stifled impatience. It was cold. She wanted to say her piece and get back indoors. She glanced over heads to the tall conical lodges pitched beyond the circle of wooden houses. Most of the unmarried men preferred to live in their lodges even in the worst of winter.  Until her mother insisted on four walls and a roof for winter, the clan had lived in canvas or skin teepees all year around. She shuddered.

Her father rose to feet. “My brother, Blue Sky At Midday, has come with news from Omaha.” He spoke in English so some of the women who were not fluent in Lakota could understand. He nodded to Sky and sat down.

Sky stood up. “I am Blue Sky At Midday, of Taye’s den north of Kearney.” Everyone knew who he was, but he was following the traditional format for council. Victoria listened carefully. “The man who calls himself President Todd of Kansas-Missouri has sent emissaries to Mayor McGrath of Omaha. He offers an alliance.”

There was an almost imperceptible flutter through the circles of people. No one spoke though. To interrupt the standing speaker was the height of rude hubris. They waited for Sky to continue.

“Mayor McGrath knows that President Todd has offered such alliances before, and two out of three times he has become not an ally but an overlord. Mayor McGrath fears the outcome of a refusal will be war and death.”

Another tiny ripple went through the young men in the outer circle. War probably appealed to them.

“A defeat in war would result in Omaha being subjected to Kansas-Missouri authority, heavy taxes, and conscription of men into their army and the women taken to marry their men.” Sky’s voice was grim. “An acceptance of the alliance could have the same result.”

He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and withdrew a grimy folded piece of paper. “Mayor McGrath is sending messages to all the settlements in the area.” He cleared his throat and read. “To all those living in Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota, greetings from Ryan Thomas McGrath, Mayor of Omaha. Benjamin Todd of Kansas-Missouri has approached me with an offer of alliance. If this alliance is successful, it will open safe and easy commerce between our regions and give us a strong ally to our south and east. If this alliance is not trustworthy, it puts all of you at risk. Omaha’s legislature is meeting on March tenth. I urge all settlements to send a delegate to represent their interests to Omaha to help us decide what our course of action should be. The delegate may be escorted by two others from his settlement, no more. All will be housed in Omaha at the city’s expense for two weeks.”

Sky folded the paper and put it back in his pocket. “That is the news I bring.”

He sat down and her father stood up. “We must decide if we’ll send a delegate to Omaha. If we decide to do that, who should go.”

He sat again and discussion began in its usual, tedious fashion. Starting with the youngest of the men, each person stood and spoke his concern. No one interrupted and no one stood until it was his turn. Her youngest brother, sixteen-year-old Young Bull, said they should not send a delegate and wondered why the matters of Omaha should affect the clan. They weren’t subject to any town. Quiet Water, her next youngest brother, stood. At eighteen, he had fully mastered his wolf and always weighed his words carefully.

“I say we send a delegate to Omaha. This concerns the wellbeing of the clan. If this president from Kansas-Missouri wants war, he will follow the river through our lands and find us.”

The discussion dragged on, each person either speaking or holding their hand palm out and moving it from side to side to signify they had no words to say. Most of her aunts had nothing to add. Neither did Victoria, since it seemed most were in favor of sending someone to Omaha. That fit with her plans perfectly. Her father boomed in his outdoor voice that the clan would send a delegate, and the discussion started all over again about who should go. Victoria listened as various people were suggested. Her eldest brother, Gray Eagle, was put forth many times, as were Uncle Stone and Uncle Stag. Uncle Snow was nominated a few times. When the discussion finally made it to the innermost circle, Victoria stood up. She looked around at the two hundred faces turned to her.

“Jumping Stag is too important to the clan to go. We cannot afford to have our holy man gone so long. Spotted Stone Wolf has children here who need him. Gray Eagle is ruled by his passion. I am the best choice to represent the Clan in Omaha. I will go.”

She observed shock on nearly every face. Her brother Gray Eagle  was halfway to his feet before he remembered they were in council, not their mother’s house. Victoria suppressed a smile. He had just proven her words true. His black eyes glowered at her as he lowered himself back down.

“I am the daughter of our Alpha,” she went on, projecting all the confidence she had. “I know all of us, so I can represent our interests in Omaha. As a woman, I will have instant attention and respect in Omaha. I know how to listen. I am the best choice for delegate.”

As soon as she sat down her brother leaped up. “You only want to go so you can see Marty Madison!”

Victoria smiled serenely. Nothing irked her brothers more. She saw her father’s big hands clench into fists on his knees. She caught his black gaze. Her smile faltered slightly. He was unhappy. Really unhappy. At her brother for nearly breaking tradition? Or at the mention of Marty’s name? She tilted her chin up to a challenging angle. It was risky to challenge the Alpha, even if he was the father who doted on her. To back down would make her look weak. No weakling could represent the clan.

“I am the best choice for delegate,” her brother argued. “I am the second beta of the clan. I know the clan and I know what we need.” He glared around at the council before sitting.

More of the men stood to vote for either Gray Eagle or Stone, but no one spoke for Victoria. She held her back perfectly straight and kept her face confident. There were a few gasps when Aunt Sherry stood. She was a foot shorter than Victoria, and a hundred pounds lighter. Victoria could not remember Jumping Stag’s tiny mate ever speaking in council before.

“Jumping Stag is needed here,” she said in her quiet, delicate voice. “I think Victoria should go. She is right, people will listen to her. She is tall and beautiful. We can send two escorts. I think Stone should go. He has been to Omaha before, so he can advise her. He will know if people are lying. And I think Gray Eagle should go. He is very strong and brave, so people will give him respect.”

Amid utter silence, the tiny woman sat down next to her mate, who put an arm around her. Victoria closed her gaping jaw and looked at her father. He and her mother seemed to be talking to each other with their eyebrows. After a long pause, her mother rose.

“I vote for Victoria to be our delegate. In the Times Before, plenty of women represented their people in government. She will be safe with Gray Eagle and Stone as escorts.”

Her father’s jaw bunched and smoothed a dozen times. His was the final decision. Victoria held her breath. He sighed and stood up.

“Victoria will be our delegate. Stone and Gray Eagle will escort her.” He looked down at her and muttered very softly, “Don’t make me regret this, Vic.”

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