Fiction Friday; American Plague

After watching this video several times, I had a thought. An intriguing thought. I asked myself - "How would history have changed if an American plague had dampened the colonial spirit of the British, French, Dutch, and Spanish empires?"

Of course, for that to happen, there would have needed to be the correct resources and situations for the growth and emergence of plagues, which means big cities and lots of animals, which may have made those empires less willing to colonize anyway. So I said "I'm taking a leaf out of Ms. Wrede's book (The Thirteenth Child, to be specific) and adding magic. This explains why the Americans could domesticate undomesticate-able animals."


And so, here we go. I'm not really pleased with the way this turned out, but the concept is there, and I enjoyed writing it all the same. I hope you can harvest something good from this.

Sails on the horizon. That had been the first sign.


Heads swung around and the people began to murmur as more of them caught the images flitting by on the summer sunshine. It took power to weave the threads of sunlight into images for the sensitive to see. That was why each of the fishing boats hired someone with a touch of power. It was worth it when they needed to send warnings about storms, or alerts to the other boats about heavy water.


But this was different. This wasn't a school of fish or a red sunrise. This was big, unnaturally white sails. They were square instead of triangular like the ones they used. There were bigger trade ships from the cities up north, and the big flat barge things from down south - they sent their goods here to the mouth of the river. It was the best place to sell upstream to the lakes.


By the time the ships pulled into port, there was a decent crowd by the docks, including three of the five high priests from the temple mount and a small delegation from the herdsmen's council. The ones that controlled the talk, and the ones that controlled the walk. The men on the ship had strange, pale skin and obviously astonished expressions. One called down to the crowd in a language no one recognized, but the sailors stepped forward anyway, beckoning to the men onboard to throw down their mooring lines, which they did. Actions were a universal language we all understood, and sailors especially understood one another perfectly well so long as none of them opened their mouths. That was when the trouble started, even between sailors who spoke the same language. Maybe especially then.


When the strangers began to disembark, still speaking loudly and making dramatic gestures with their hands as if this might make their words more understandable, the youngest of the high priests, a man passing middle age, stepped into their path and lifted both hands. This silenced them, at least for a moment, and after a second, he began a Conjure.


The power collected around him like the change in pressure when lightning is about to strike, and with a flourish, he began to weave the light into a moving image over his own head. It wasn't easy to make a picture move, but that was why he was a high priest and not a fisherman or herdsman.


In the image, just translucent enough to see the clouds on the other side, the priests invited their pale guests up to the temple for a feast and to hear all they had to say. They celebrated and traded goods, danced and clasped hands. The image darkened and it showed one of the strangers stealing a goat. The image flashed ominously yellow, then faded. The message was clear. If you come in peace, then we welcome you, but if you come to take what is not yours, it won't end well.


The strangers seemed stunned, and started babbling to one another in their strange language without bothering to slow down or try to mime what they meant to the locals. That was probably just as well, for the priests invited them then to come up to the temple. There was no feast ready yet, but it wouldn't take more than two or three hours to prepare one.


That first contact was actually pretty good. It was, at least, not violent. They were excited to know there were people on this side of the big water, and the fact that we had herds of deer and buffalo seemed to impress them. They showed us small creatures that did horrid damage to the pen we loaned them, but I don't think anyone was very impressed with that. What we were interested in was their ship. It was unlike anything we'd ever seen before.


Maybe if we hadn't been so friendly with them, it wouldn't have happened. It was maybe two weeks after they arrived, only a few days before they left us to sail down the coast, when the first of our people started to show signs of the illness. It was fast - faster than anything we had seen before, though not any more serious than the usual winter sicknesses.


That is, until it started to spread.


The priests tried to keep it contained. The herdsmen refused to let people leave the city. River traffic was shut down, but by then it was too late. What had started as one or two ill on the docks had turned into an infirmary packed to overflowing with patients that were coughing so hard they turned blue, and crackled like paper when we rolled them over, and it was spreading like summer bush fires.


I could only comfort myself, really, with knowing that when they got back on their ship with their strange sails, two of the strangers were starting to develop sores around their mouths - they'd caught the children's sickness from one of the girls on the docks, and were spreading it to each other with their bad air and greed.


By the time the illness had finished with our city, I was the only one in my entire class that hadn't gotten sick. Well, not very sick, anyway. I helped take care of everyone else, and even though it was an exhausting job it was sort of gratifying to know I was being so useful. That didn't make up for the four we lost to the illness, though. They'd been normal kids like the rest of us, no weaker or stronger than the ones that survived. Why did it have to be them, and not me? I'm not jealous, not of going like that, but I do wonder sometimes who makes choices like that. How can anyone, even the gods, decide who lives and who dies? How do they live with themselves when they're done choosing that day's survivors?


I dealt with it the same way everyone else did. I kept busy. I can only be grateful now that I had some training as a Healer, because if I hadn't then they probably would have put me to work digging graves. As unpleasant as it was to watch them die, I don't think I would have wanted to be the one to bury them. I don't think I have the strength for that.

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