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REBECCA MEETS MARCEL'S FAMILY



Rebecca did not have much packing to do. She had, after all, come to the university already packed for travel. The few extra bags she accumulated in her short stay held the herbs and other medicinals she had gathered here, as well as some incidental items of clothing purchased when the length of her stay exceeded her wardrobe..
Marcel also was going to travel light. He had packed just enough for the trip home. All his other belongings were in the process of being crated for shipment later. Those too, would travel by water. Marcel and Rebecca had hired a small sloop for the trip up the “Great River” to Wappinger. The distance was not great and they would be there, wind and current willing, in the early evening of the next day. The sloop was designed on the style of the tribes of the Northwest, with a wide beam and high bow. Unlike many, this one lacked a totem jutting from the bow. The rig of the sails was, of course, borrowed from the Others. The People had no reluctance to adopting useful ideas and crafts - providing they did not conflict with their underlying way of life. That is why the wheel was immediately adopted but multi- story dwellings had, after five hundred years, been restricted to the reservations. The sloop was somewhat of an extravagance - twice as expensive as the regular, scheduled, ship - but it provided them with the luxury of privacy. The “captain and crew”, being one and the same individual, kept to himself in the stern. Once underway, the two associates sat on a cushioned bench toward the bow and took in the vista that spread like a living ribbon ahead of the boat. Off to the left rose the sheer bluffs of the Lovers. It was a local legend that two young lovers had leapt to their deaths together from the top of the shear volcanic bluffs - something to do with family animosity. Rebecca pointed to the cliffs.
“The theme of the ‘ lover’s suicide’ seems to be universal. The Brits have an entire play devoted to it.”
“Shakespeare seems to have written a play about every human impulse. When did the man ever sleep?”
“He was prolific. It is unfortunate his countrymen didn’t spend more time going to his plays and less time trying to invade our land.”
“Not so unfortunate for us - those of us living now.”
“Marcel, you’re an historian...”
“But, of course. I knew that.”
“Don’t interrupt me. I am trying to make a serious point.”
“With all this beauty around me” Marcel replied with a gesture that encompassed the scenery and ended with Rebecca’s hand being grasped in his “ it is hard to be serious.”
“Well, can I try?” She did not pull her hand away.
Off in the distance, the surface rippled with the play of otters. Or perhaps it was a large fish. From this distance he could not tell. The water was clear and deep here, in the channel. At the edges of the deepness, many small fishing boats plied their nets where the smaller fish hid from predators in the weeds that grew on the bottom. The river was teeming with fish. Small, shiny perch to be netted, bass as large as a man, and the whiskered bottom fish to be caught with hooks. Even the monsters - the scaled fish that reached twice the length of a man - still prowled these waters. Every so often, a few miles apart, they could see the smoke rising from cooking fires in the river-front villages. Where streams of lesser size came to join the great river, the People placed their villages. The new, fresh, water from these creeks and rills delivered food to the Great River and fishing was particularly good near these mergers. Marcel knew there would be no villages in the next few miles. The feet of the mountains - their very toes, indeed - came right down to dip into the cool waters. There was no room for a village there, and in many places there was not even room for a man to stand between rock and water. They would spend the night, still on the sloop, anchored at the northmost cove of the widening. Tappan Zee the Dutch called it, before they were asked to leave. East side or west would depend on the captains’s guess of the morrow’s winds. They could have traveled through the night but Marcel decided it would be good for Rebecca to see this land. The next morning they would resume up river past the Mountains of the Bear and his own favorite - the Whale.

This was where the river was narrowest, a place where the British fleet had been destroyed, ending a last attempt to invade the heartland of the People over two hundred years ago. Marcel tried to picture the braves and warriors, climbing on the sheer rock faces, to launch their fire arrows at the sails of the enemy. To picture the many canoes, as they came out from behind every nook and cove of the shore. To come out and do battle. The narrow confines of the river had prevented the Brits from maneuvering the large sailed vessels and their cannon were of little use. Designed to sink French and Spanish and Dutch vessels, they could not be lowered enough to fire on the canoes that brought flaming destruction. As the story was told, the sheer number of fires defeated all efforts to extinguish and while distracted in the attempt, the crews could not fight off the swarming of the braves onto their decks. The fighting had been particularly fierce, with no quarter given on either side. Perhaps, directly below their sloop, were the remains of one of the British ships - now only a tomb for the losers.
“This place is so beautiful, Marcel. So peaceful.”

Marcel burst out in a great laugh at her remark - so opposite to his thoughts.
“It is peaceful, now. In an hour or two we will be at my village. You, as a stranger - a delightful stranger - will be given no peace, so take advantage of it while you can.”
As they continued northward, the river once again widened. Off to the right, rose the nearby mountains that made the first foothills. Marcel had always wondered why these foothills were on the wrong side of the river. Here, especially, the terrain was misleading. On the left bank of the river the land rose in no particular fashion until it became lost in the haze of the horizon. Except for the Whale. This was a mountain that when viewed from the north gave a remarkable appearance of a large whale crawling into the river. Marcel motioned for Rebecca to turn and watched for her reaction.
“Marcel, what a remarkable place. I can see it holds magic. I am almost sorry for trying to take you away from it even for a while.”
“It is magical, Rebecca.” He said no more and resumed watching the land slide silently by.

The sloop made better time once it reached the Beacon. Marcel knew from his climbs during childhood that the legends were true. He had seen the large, stone circles that had once, long ago, contained the huge fires used to signal. It was said that on a clear night, the light from those flames could be seen all the way to the sea - where the Great River delivered its burden to the ocean. Even to where the University covered its own riverside cliffs. In all the years he had lived at the university, which was located toward the northern end of the sliver like island that stood at the river mouth, he toyed with the idea, but he never had tried it out. A simple message to friends at home and they would have ascended to light, once again, the beacon flame. There were tall rock formations near the university on which he could stand to look for the glow. An intriguing idea. Perhaps he would light the fire for others to see. Marcel thought it would be more interesting to be the watcher - to scan the darkness of the horizon for the slightest glimmer of light. It was because of those giant fire circles that the mountain was called the Beacon, and it lent its name to the village that grew in the sloping plain that led down several miles from its feet, to the great river.
The landscape was as he remembered it. Each cove and hill right where he had left them many years past. Only the living things, the trees and the birds, had changed. The trees had grown, or fallen into the water and the birds, of course, were always moving. A strong feeling of belonging, of being a real part of this place, grew with each minute of northerly travel. It was good to be coming home.
Rebecca had noticed Marcel’s gradual lapse into silence. Being a frequent traveler - coming and going almost all her life, first between the Calusa and Cahokia and then to Europe, she tried to imagine what he was thinking on this return to his past. Things did not much change - once one got away from the reservations - from year to year. That made the desire to return all the stronger for one would know where they were going when they went home.
And this was Marcel’s home.