From the book
So this was freedom. The canoe went with the river's tide, water bumping against the bow. Dirk van Dyck looked at the little girl and wondered: Was this journey a terrible mistake? Big river, calling him to the north. Big sky, calling him to the west. Land of many rivers, land of many mountains, land of many forests. How far did it continue? Nobody knew. Not for certain. High above the eagles, only the sun on its huge journey westward could ever see the whole of it. Yes, he had found freedom here, and love, in the wilderness. Van Dyck was a large man. He wore Dutch pantaloons, boots with turnover tops, and a leather jerkin over his shirt. Now they were approaching the port, he had put on a wide-brimmed hat with a feather in it. He gazed at the girl. His daughter. Child of his sin. His sin for which, religion said, he must be punished. How old was she? Ten, eleven? She had been so excited when he'd agreed to take her downriver. She had her mother's eyes. A lovely Indian child. Pale Feather, her people called her. Only her pale skin betrayed the rest of her story. "Soon we shall be there." The Dutchman spoke in Algonquin, the language of the local tribes. New Amsterdam. A trading post. A fort and little town behind a palisade. But it was important, all the same, in the worldwide com mercial empire of the Dutch.
Van Dyck was proud to be Dutch. Their country might be small, but the indomitable Netherlanders had stood up to the mighty, occupying Spanish Empire, and won their independence. It was his people who had constructed the great dykes to reclaim huge tracts of fertile land from the rage of the sea. It was the maritime Dutch who had built up a trading empire that was the envy of the nations. Their cities—Amsterdam, Delft, Antwerp—where the rows of tall, gabled houses lined stately canals and waterways, were havens for artists, scholars and freethinkers from all over Europe, in this, the golden age of Rembrandt and Vermeer. Yes, he was proud to be Dutch.
In its lower reaches, the great river was tidal. This morning it was ﬂowing down toward the ocean. During the afternoon, it would reverse itself and ﬂow back toward the north.
The girl was looking forward, downstream. Van Dyck sat facing her, his back resting against a large pile of skins, beaver mostly, that ﬁlled the center of the canoe. The canoe was large and broad, its sides made of tree bark, sturdy but light. Four Indians paddled, two fore, two aft. Just behind them, a second boat, manned by his own men, followed them down the stream. He'd needed to take on this Indian canoe to carry all the cargo he had bought. Upriver, the late-spring sky was thunderous; above them, gray clouds. But ahead, the water was bright.
A sudden shaft of sunlight ﬂashed from behind a cloud. The river made a tapping sound on the side of the boat, like a native drum giving him warning. The breeze on his face tingled, light as sparkling wine. He spoke again. He did not want to hurt her, but it had to be done.
"You must not say I am your father."
The girl glanced down at the little stone pendant that hung around her neck. A tiny carved face, painted red and black. The face hung upside down, Indian fashion. Logical, in fact: when you lifted the pendant to look at it, the face would be staring at you the right way up. A lucky charm. The Masked One, Lord of the Forest, the keeper of nature's balance.
Pale Feather did not answer him, but only gazed down at the face of her Indian god. What was she thinking? Did she understand? He could not tell.
From behind the rocky cliffs that...