On April twentieth, a forty-year-old Huron chief, who had resided in Trois-Rivieres since the Iroquois massacre of the Hurons at Sainte Marie, heard, from two Hurons who had come into the town two days earlier, a rumor of war.
He decided to edge in the battle and reduce the Iroquois population somewhat.
He had been in Huronia eleven years before when the rumors of a significant Iroquois attack turned out to be true. He had lost many friends and family members at that time. That was when the Black Robe Fr. Jean Brebeuf was tortured and killed along with other priests, religious lay brothers and Huron.
Never again would he sit and wait on a rumor. He would go out and discover its veracity.
He organized a party of forty to investigate — one brave for every year of his life.
He was the most feared, most cunning man in the Huron nation, and the Iroquois considered him the enemy with the ‘greatest heart’, the highest tribute they could pay.
His name was Annahotaha.
Annahotaha was an impressive man among the Huron and would have been so in any society. He wasn’t particularly tall, and he wasn’t the strongest of the Huron band, but he had a wide, powerful chest and perfectly formed legs. His legs were long, muscular tools that could be bent over a council or pumped through a forest for hours. He was perfectly balanced. The Indians played a game within a circle in which two men fought, each trying to move the other across the perimeter line drawn in the earth with a stick. He never lost.
A most impressive aspect of the man was his oblong face, centered by a long, sharp nose. His eyes were set deep in his large head so that they looked like small, dark caves. The lids were flat and hooded the pupils so that he never seemed to squint. The eyes themselves were black, intelligent, skeptical and oddly–considering what he had endured–full of good humor. When his eyes lit, like fires in caves, and he smiled, he showed white teeth and the corners of his mouth shot out in laugh lines like the whiskers of a cat. He wore his long, black hair straight back, gleaming with sunflower-seed oil, lank to his shoulders.
He wore the winter costume of the Indian of this and other tribes in this country, deer-skin breeches, leggings, moccasins of bear skin. Over his shoulders, he wore a large beaver skin and over all this he draped a robe with sleeves and girded by a piece of dried deer sinew. Like most other Indians, he carried a tobacco pouch on his hip.
Annahotaha and his men left the narrow, blowing streets of Trois-Rivieres and, taking minimal provisions, they decided to stay in the forest until they had Iroquois scalps.
In fourteen small canoes, they swiftly paddled away from the town.
On the morning of the second day, their scouts reported Indians down river– too far to be sure what tribe.
His braves moved stealthily down the riverbank. The ground was wet, and the dead leaves from last fall made a wet and spongy carpet.
There were four Indians camped sixty yards away with one guard. The Hurons surrounded the camp in a wide circle.
The Indians were Algonquins — their allies — so one of Annahotaha’s men indicated their presence by throwing a stone against a tree. The Algonquin guard stiffened, twisted somewhat to the sleeping three as if tossing in his sleep, and said one almost inaudible word to his friends. In one swift movement they were standing all with muskets ready.
Annahotaha spoke in Algonquin. The Hurons understood Algonquin but most of them refused to learn it or speak it. They considered this to be evidence of Huron superiority, but the Algonquins did not object. They knew knowledge of the two languages gave them the advantage in trade.
“Greetings. It is a comrade,” said Annahotaha, in Algonquin.
“What comrade?” replied the Algonquin leader, a tall, slim, well-built young man.
“Annahotaha, war chief of the Hurons. Who are you?”
“Mituvemeg, war chief of Algonquins.”
“Oh-ho,” said Annahotaha. While the two had never met, Mituvemeg was known throughout the allied territory. He was a fighter, a brave leader, a man of ‘great heart’ like himself. He was also something of a drinker.
“How many are you?” asked Mituvemeg.
“Several.” said Annahotaha. At this, he gave a signal and the forty Hurons stepped into the clearing surrounding the Algonquins.
Mituvemeg looked around quickly.
“Several!” he snorted. He knew now that the danger was past and allowed himself to remember that he had a headache. “Ohhhh!”
“Your reputation is true,” observed Annahotaha.
“What reputation?” Mituvemeg glared but stopped because glaring made him knit his brows and focus hard and that hurt.
“That you like fire-water.”
“I like it,” Mituvemeg said, dropping his musket. His chest heaved, and he sank to his haunches.
“I have heard too that you do not care for fighting much.” Annahotaha said, playing.
“You have heard… what?” mumbled Mituvemeg, bewildered. Then he decided the point was ridiculous. You have heard false repute.” Clearly, Mituvemeg wasn’t in the mood for fighting at the moment.
“My reports are reliable,” goaded Annahotaha.
“Your reports are false and you are false to echo them.” He had to raise his voice to say all that, and that hurt too.
“You say my reports are false?”
“You are drunk.
Mituvemeg wasn’t going to stand for anymore. In fact, he wasn’t standing at all, having sat down disconsolately moments earlier.
“And you are a nuisance,” said Mituvemeg. He rose quickly, and the blood sank from his head like a rock in a still lake. He closed his eyes, paused, and then said:
“I challenge you to a trial of courage.”
He rose unsteadily. Annahotaha said nothing.
“I challenge you,” Mituvemeg repeated, bracing his feet apart so that he wouldn’t fall down. He pointed to each of his three braves and then to groups of Hurons. “You take them; you, them; you, them; and I, these and him.”
The Hurons laughed out loud. The three Algonquins looked at Mituvemeg as if he had asked them to fly.
“Your senses are gone; we are forty, you are four.”
“One Algonquin is worth forty Hurons.” He realized that was not what he wanted to say and shook his head, reconsidering. “Ten,” he said at last.
The Hurons laughed louder now.
“I will not fight a man who has no sense,” said Annahotaha.
“Will you not fight?” said Mituvemeg.
“I will fight later,” said Annahotaha.
“You will fight later.”
“You will,” He bobbed his head in agreement.
“I will fight,” said Annahotaha.
Mituvemeg got ready immediately.
“You will fight?”
The Hurons were laughing so hard, some of them fell down. Annahotaha turned away.
“When?” said Mituvemeg.
“When you like, but I have no time now. I am going to fight Iroquois.”
“Good,” said Mituvemeg, in a voice deep with satisfaction. Now he was getting somewhere. But then he changed the subject. “We are going to Montreal.”
“And I,” said Annahotaha.
“Good,” said Mituvemeg parentally as if he had gotten some inextricable information from a sullen child. He seemed pleased with the patience he had displayed. “He is going to Montreal,” he said helpfully to his brothers as if translating, which was unnecessary since Annahotaha was still speaking Algonquin.
“I will see you in several days,” said Annahotaha.
“Several?” said Mituvemeg, a little confused but maybe playing too. “Not this ‘several’?
He motioned to the forty Hurons.
Annahotaha laughed. “No. Two or three.” The Indians had no protocol for farewells as they did for salutations, so Annahotaha simply walked away.
Mituvemeg watched for a moment, turned to his friends and said: “He’s a good warrior, but he’s getting old. I will have to teach him a lesson.” He sat down. “Several,” he snorted, then rolled over and went to sleep.