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Native American Legends

The Peace Queen

An Iroquois Legend

A brave of the Oneida tribe hunted in the forest. The red buck flashed past him, but not swifter than his arrow, for as the deer leaped he loosed his shaft and it pierced the dappled hide.

The young man strode toward the carcass, knife in hand, but as he seized the horns, the branches parted, and the angry face of an Onondaga warrior lowered between them.

"Leave the buck, Oneida," he commanded fiercely. "It is the spoil of my bow. I wounded the beast before you saw it."

The Oneida laughed. "My brother may have shot at the buck," he said, "but of what use is that if he did not slay it?"

"The carcass is mine by right of forest law," cried the other in a rage. "Will you give it up, or will you fight?" The Oneida drew himself up and regarded the Onondaga scornfully. "As my brother pleases," he replied.

Next moment, the two were locked in a life-and-death struggle. The Onondaga was tall and strong as a great tree of the forest. The Oneida, lithe as a panther, fought with all the courage of youth. They swayed back and forth, till their breathing came thick and fast and the falling sweat blinded their eyes. At length they could struggle no longer, and by a mutual impulse, they sprang apart.

"Ho! Onondaga," cried the younger man, "of what use is it to struggle like this for a buck? Is there no meat in the lodges of your people that they must fight for it like the mountain lion?"

"Peace, young man!" answered the grave Onondaga, "I would not have fought for the buck if your evil tongue had not angered me. But I am older than you, and, I think, wiser. Let us seek the lodge of the Peace Queen close by, and she will award the buck to him who has the best right to it."

"It is well," said the Oneida, and side by side they sought the lodge of the Peace Queen.

Now the Five Nations in their wisdom had set apart a Seneca maiden dwelling alone in the forest as judge over quarrels between braves. This maiden was regarded by the men of all tribes as sacred and as being apart from other women. She could not become the bride of any man.

As the Peace Queen heard the angry shouting of the braves outside her lodge, she stepped outside, not at all pleased that they should thus profane the vicinity of her dwelling. "Peace!" she cried. "If you have a grievance, enter and state it. It is not fitting that braves should quarrel where the Peace Queen dwells."

At her words, the men stood ashamed. They entered the lodge and told the story of their meeting and the circumstances of their quarrel.

When they had finished, the Peace Queen smiled scornfully. "So two such braves as you can quarrel about a buck?" she said. "Go, Onondaga, as the elder, and take one half of the animal, and bear it back to your wife and children."

But the Onondaga stood his ground. "O Queen," he said, "my wife is in the Land of Spirits, taken from me by the Plague Demon. But my lodge does not lack food. I would marry again, and your eyes have looked into my heart as the sun pierces the darkness of the forest. Will you come to my lodge and cook my venison?"

But the Peace Queen shook her head. "You know that the Five Nations have placed Genetaska apart to be Peace Queen," she replied firmly, "and that her vows may not be broken. Go in peace." The Onondaga was silent.

Then spoke the Oneida. "O Peace Queen," he said, gazing steadfastly at Genetaska, whose eyes dropped before his glance," I know that you are set apart by the Five Nations. But it is in my mind to ask you to go with me to my lodge, for I love you. What says Genetaska?"

The Peace Queen blushed and answered: "To you also I say, go in peace," but her voice was a whisper which ended with a stifled sob.

The two warriors departed, good friends now that they possessed a common sorrow. But the Peace Maiden had forever lost her peace. For she could not forget the young Oneida brave, so tall, so strong, and so gentle.

Summer darkened into autumn, and autumn whitened into winter. Many warriors came to the Peace Lodge for the settlement of disputes. Outwardly Genetaska was calm and untroubled, but although she gave solace to others, her own breast could find none.

One day she sat by the lodge fire, which had burned down to a heap of cinders. She was thinking, dreaming of the young Oneida. Her thoughts went out to him as birds fly southward to seek the sun. Suddenly a crackling of twigs under a firm step roused her from her reverie. Quickly she glanced upward. Before her stood the youth of her dreams, pale and worn.

"Peace Queen," he said softly, "you have brought darkness to the soul of the Oneida. No longer may he follow the hunt. The deer need not fear him. No longer may he bend the bow or throw the tomahawk in contest, or listen to the tale during the long nights round the camp-fire. You have his heart in your keeping. Say, will you not give him yours?"

Softly the Peace Queen murmured: "I will."

Hand in hand like two joyous children they sought his canoe, which bore them swiftly westward. No longer was Genetaska Peace Queen, for her vows were broken by the power of love.

The two were happy. But not so the men of the Five Nations. They were angry because the Peace Queen had broken her vows, and knew how foolish they had been to trust to the word of a young and beautiful woman. So with one voice they abolished the office of Peace Queen, and war and tumult returned once more to the people.

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