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Critique/WIP Discussion > Excerpt, Pilgrimage to Eden (1230 words)

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message 1: by Greg (new)

Greg Parkes | 1 comments The set-up: It's 1712, upstate New York. A community of German refugees is looking for a new home.

Karighondontee stood, his arms crossed and his legs spread, on the raised platform inside the stockade surrounding his village. From here, he could look over the top of the ten-foot walls at the white men approaching. He was in his fortieth summer, as nearly as he remembered, and even though his once impressive musculature was slowly turning to fat, his was still an impressive figure. His tunic was open to the waist, to better display the geometric tattooing on his chest and throat. Crossing tattooed lines on his face indicated victorious campaigns. Small figures adorned his outer thighs; each represented a dead man.

It had been twenty years, again, as nearly as he remembered, since this Huron warrior had been captured by the Mohawks. Adopted into their tribe, he had turned the head of a sachem’s daughter. She had pled with her father, who had granted her the Schoharie as a refuge where her lover might be safe from murder by other, drunken Mohawks. Since then, other Indians, refugees from a dozen tribes, had come to him. There were Mohawks and Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas, Delawares and even Mohegans and a Narragansett living with him now and all of them passed over a portion of their corn and meat and pelts in return for his protection.

He watched the seven white men wade across the Schoharie, and decided that these men were no threat to his people. He left other armed men on the scaffolding to watch their progress and went to wait before his longhouse. His wife’s kinsman, Tekanatoken, would bring them to him, through the gantlet of parallel walls, where, if needed, the defenders could rain death upon any attackers from behind the walls before they could even reach the gate of his stockade.

As Tekanatoken led them to his longhouse, Karighondpontee could tell that they were not soldiers. They didn’t walk like soldiers, and when they came before him and spread out in a rank, they didn’t stand like soldiers either. They were all men of middle years, a bit younger than he himself was. Two of them carried guns, and they didn’t carry them as soldiers would. They were poor men. Their clothes fit badly and there were no buckles on their boots. He looked from one to another until they began to fidget. He had long ago learned that impassivity was a powerful tool.

Tekanatoken stepped forward. “Oh great Karighondontee, Sachem of the Schoharies,” he began with all of the rhetorical embellishment required of such a meeting, “These men have traveled from beyond Albany to seek your favor.” He continued on for another two minutes while the whites stood in ignorance.

When he was finished, Karighondontee said, with an equal flourish, “Have they paid you?”

Tekanatoken smiled. “Indeed they have, and they have brought gifts for you also.” He extended a pouch of tobacco, and another of salt.

Karighondontee inspected the offerings. “Very well. Let them wash the road from their feet and the dust from their throats. Take them to the small house, give them food and drink. I will meet with them at sundown.” He turned and disappeared into his home.

Tekanatoken led Wilhelm and the other Palatines farther into the village, past great longhouses of saplings and bark, past skins drying in tenter frames, past women pounding corn, and past children chasing each other among the structures. Almost every child had a barking dog chasing too. He led them to into a small round hut. Logs draped in bearskins ringed the walls, a small fire burned in the center; its smoke rose through a hole in the roof. “Sit and rest,” he said in English. “He will meet with you at sundown. They will bring you food.” Then he too turned and left them.

A girl entered, carrying a bucket and a drinking gourd. She stopped in front of Wilhelm, dipped the gourd in the bucket and handed it to him. He looked first at her, and then at his companions, apprehensively. She laughed toothlessly, retrieved the gourd and drank from it. Then she handed it back to Wilhelm. The water was fresh and cool. He smiled his thanks, drank, and handed the gourd to the next man.

Other women brought them unleavened bread, some sort of a corn paste sweetened with honey, and dried meat. It was tough and without flavor. They ate with their fingers, hungrily. They talked excitedly of this broad and fertile valley that must, after their years of wandering in the wilderness, become their promised land.

Tekanatoken came for them at sundown. He led them to Karighondontee, who was seated on a windsor chair near a central fire. His throne, Wilhelm thought. The chieftan had re-tied his hair, and adorned it with feathers for this ceremony. Wilhelm guessed that there were 200 warriors standing in a circle surrounding them. They all bore weapons, displayed to impress the white men with Karighondontee’s importance, and they were all fantastically and fiercely tattooed to show their own. Women and children stood silently behind them. Karighondontee waited impassively as the Palatines approached. He wore the red coat of a long-dead army captain. A blood stain, like a red-brown epaulet, marked one shoulder. Tekanatoken spoke.

“Oh great Karighondontee,” he began, “These men ask a boon of you.” He handed further offerings to the sachem, gifts of tobacco and a shining silver bridle ornament one of the men had found on the Albany road.

“Who speaks for these men?”

After this was translated, Johan Weiser stepped forward. “I shall.”

“What is it you ask?” There were long pauses while Tekanatoken translated.

“We wish to settle our people in this valley, and we ask your permission to do so.”

“How many?”

“A small party will come immediately to prepare the way. The rest will follow in the spring. Perhaps as many as now live in Schenectady.”

“And how shall you get your food?”

“We are husbandmen. We grow grain and pigs.”

“Do you also hunt?”

“Few of us have guns.”

“Do you follow the beaver?”

“We are not familiar with this animal. We are told that those of Albany prize it highly, but we do not trade with the English. They have used us poorly.”

“Have you blacksmiths?”

“No. They are required to remain on the Hudson. We are only farmers of the soil. We have not coopers’ nor carpenters’ nor any other skills”

Behind his calm features, Karighondontee was thinking rapidly. As many as Schenectady! They would double the men who can fight...whites all lie, there won’t be half so many. They have few guns, but they will get them rapidly, just as my people are. The good hunting lies to the south, they will be in the north. They neither hunt nor trap the beaver…invaders from Canada must fall on them before they can reach my people...they have no love of the English…no smiths. There’s a pity…. He rose slowly, with dignity. He made it a practice never to grant any request out of hand.

“I will ponder your words and consult the spirits. Come again to me in the morning.” He turned and entered his home.

Tekanatoken led them back to their quarters. “Rest here tonight. I will come for you again in the morning. The women will bring you more food.” He left them to report to his chief.

message 2: by Louis (new)

Louis | 9 comments Greg,

I have read your excerpt and would like to offer the following comments.

First, I like the idea and concept. Exploring the fate of Europeans in the new world through the eyes of the Native Americans is excellent. Your knowledge of the times is also evident in the submitted material. You have brought several nice phrases/concepts to the table. My favorite:

"He looked from one to another until they began to fidget. "

This is kinetic. I could see the poor guys beginning to squirm.

Now, I have other comments -- not necessarily criticisms, but more my overall impressions as I read, with a smattering of suggestions (many are just my preference and may not necessarily be correct).

1. Overall, there is more telling than showing. As such, much of the descriptions are wordy and did not really allow me to picture in my mind's eye what the scene and setting was really like. I am also betting the first 5 paragraphs could be condensed into 2. This would get the reader into the setting faster and to the action (the men coming into the camp) sooner. As it stands I was pretty saturated with tribes, terms, and detail before we got to the crux of the document.

2. There are words that need to be clarified: is Schoharie a river or something that was granted? Loved the use of "toothlessly" but did not know if she had no teeth or smiled without showing her teeth.

3. The last sentences in paragraphs 2 and 3 are too long. It is hard to hold on to the concept(s) of each line.

4. Tempo. I find that there is a rhythm to sentences that allow them to flow smoothly. Impediments include overuse of the same term (ie, too much use of: "tatoo" in paragraph 1; "others" in back to back sentences in paragraph 2; and "chasing" in paragraph 9) and/or a word that stops the melodic flow of a sentence. Sometimes a one syllable term is better, sometimes multi-syllable terms work better. For example in paragraph 1 "...was slowly turning to fat..." clunks up the sentence. Substituting "faded" for these terms allows the sentence to keep flowing.

5. Dialog. I am a talker and like dialog. The most vivid part of your piece for me was when people were talking to each other. However, I am used to each new line of dialog being introduced with a new paragraph. In this way, the spoken words are not getting lost in the necessary descriptors that surround each new comment. It is just easier for me to follow.

I hope these remarks are of use to you and not too irritating. Thank you for having the courage to "put yourself out there."

I welcome your comments or suggestions.


message 3: by Trana (new)

Trana Mathews (tranamathews) | 6 comments As Louis mentioned, I found the Schoharie reference confusing. If the first mention included area or valley, this would help readers understand your meaning. Especially since your next reference is wading across the Schoharie.

I would break some of your long sentences into shorter, crisper ones. For example:

He thought he was in his fortieth summer. Though his strong musculature was turning to fat, he was still an impressive figure.

I would rewrite the first paragraph. Your important point, "From here, he could look over the top of the ten-foot walls at the white men approaching." should be the last sentence.

"all of the rhetorical embellishment required of such a meeting" To me, it's unclear why this embellishment was required. The visitors didn't understand as they "stand in ignorance". I think it would make more sense if another person were also translating at this point or if Tekanatoken stops to translate for the visitors during this scene.

You've used a large number of adverbs for such a short excerpt. I've been told by my critique group that this is a sign of a novice writer. Now it's something that I look for in my own work.

I love your concept and the interplay between the Germans and Indian tribesmen. Some pieces are very vivid and evocative. You've done well for a first draft :)

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