The Frenchmen crowded down on the shore as the Hurons and Algonquins pulled their canoes out of the water.
“Greetings,” said Annahotaha.
“Greetings!” said Dollard. “It is good to see you, Chief Annahotaha. What brings you here?”
“Shall I not move in my forest?”
Dollard took the rebuke.
“I’m sorry. What I meant was it is such a surprise. We’ve have been traveling many days without seeing anyone.
“I know your mission,” laughed Annahotaha. “Chief Mituvemeg and I are here to help you. This is Mituvemeg, a chief of the Algonquin,” he said, turning toward the Algonquin.
“Your bravery and skill precede you in stories, Chief Mituvemeg. You are welcome.”
“Good,” said Mituvemeg. “We heard you were going to attack the Iroquois and since we had nothing better to do we decided to come too.”
“But how did you discover our plans?”
“In Montreal. The French talk all the time.”
“That’s true. We could benefit from your ability to keep silent.”
“Mmmm,” Mituvemeg grunted.
“I have a paper from the governor,” said Annahotaha. He took the letter out of his belt and handed it over.
Dollard opened the seal and read it silently.
Montreal, April 16, 166o.
Chief Annahotaha and Chief Mituvemeg have approached me this morning.
They have heard of your plans and wish to join you. I have told them the attack was to be a small one, and more men might jeopardize it but I said that only to offer you an excuse should you not want assistance.
Annahotaha and Mituvemeg are trustworthy of course, and my feeling is that their men are as well. I strongly advise you allow them to join you.
They come with my recommendation.
There is another matter. There have been incidents at Quebec like the attack at Nun’s Island. People are worried because captured Mohawks have been telling of a mass attack on our stations this spring. I don’t know what to advise you about this except you are probably better strengthened than not, whatever the proclivities of the Huron.
God be with you on your mission,
Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, Governor of Montreal.
Annahotaha and Mituvemeg did not so much as exchange glances while Dollard read the letter. The Indians were always astonished at the French ability to make marks on pieces of paper in one place and have men to whom they were delivered in another place know what the writer wanted. Since the Indians had no written language and depended on human memory as well as designs and pictures on artifacts, the letter system dazzled them. But neither Annahotaha nor Mituvemeg allowed their faces to betray any sense of wonder. They had seen this trick before, even if they didn’t understand it, and they were supremely confident of Maisonneuve’s assessment of their worth. They did not even consider the possibility that Dollard would refuse their help.
Dollard finished the letter.
“Thank you, Chief Annahotaha. The governor wishes us well and I feel stronger and more confident now that I have two great chiefs and their warriors with us.”
Annahotaha nodded. Mituvemeg smiled and said “Good.”
“Will you eat with us? We have sagamite nearly ready,” said Dollard, pointing to the fires at the side of the river.
“With pleasure. You have a good heart,” said Annahotaha. He looked around the site chosen. “You have chosen well, Captain. The Iroquois must pass here in single file. It is a perfect place to situate.”
“Good,” echoed Mituvemeg approvingly. He looked at the river, the forest, the south shore across the river, and finally the spray-coated white rocks above him. “Good. Now we must wait. But first a drink.”
He had restrained himself for six days and would do so no longer. Pilote was standing by.
“Chief Mituvemeg,” he said, producing a flask, “You’re a man after my own heart.” He put his arm around the chief and led him off, holding the bottle in his left hand, slightly out of Mituvemeg’s reach.
“I can see we’re going to get along.”
“Good,” said Mituvemeg, who reached out and grabbed the bottle. He took a long drink, coughed, held up the bottle and said, “Good!”
The laughter from all sides was genuine and easy. Guards being set, they sat down to eat.
The French observed the Indians closely. Although they had seen many Huron and Algonquins before in Montreal and on trading trips, they had never seen so many gathered deep in the wild. This was the Indians’ forest, and the young Frenchmen were impressed by the way the braves looked and acted.
Most of the Indians were dressed similarly: the deerskin mocassins, leggings, breechclouts, sleeved jackets with overcoats of beaver, fox, or beaver fur. But their hair styles widely varied. Many were their hair long and back from their heads, like Annahotaha, but some wore it on only one side, some in one or two large rolls adorned with feathers above their ears. Some braves wore their hair in ridges — a ridge of hair two fingers wide on the crown of their heads and on each side an equal space shaved off, then more hair, then another ridge, and so on. Some had one side of their hair shaved, and the other side dropped to their shoulders. Some did this and tied the loose hair with leather thongs.
The story was that the French, when they saw some Indians with the shaved-head styles, exclaimed, ‘Quelles hures!’ or ‘what boar heads’ and the name ‘Huron’ was born.
The Hurons loved the Frenchmen’s clothes, especially the hats, but there was something strange here Dollard noted. All the Hurons had one thing in common: every one of them wore a scarlet plume made of long moose hair and fastened to a leather band three fingers wide that they wore around their heads. They were war plumes.
Their faces were painted in wild dyes. Black and red were favorite combinations but green, violet and yellow were also used under the eyes, accentuating high cheekbones and high foreheads.
There were some whose noses were painted blue, the eyes, eyebrows and cheeks painted black, and the rest of the face, red.
Louis Taondechoren’s face was painted this way. He was sixty years old — too old to be on the warpath, some said — but he was in perfect health, could speak French and was a skilled orator in the Huron and Iroquois tongues. Taondechoren was a Christian and a tireless liaison man between the French and the Hurons. He believed the French were sincere in their offers of friendship to the Huron, and he was zealous in strengthening relations between the two peoples. He was known to Dollard and most of the Frenchmen, and he was welcomed warmly.
Annahotaha had only one black stripe from ear to ear across the eyes and three red stripes on each cheek.
Minutemen and the three other Algonquins all wore white and black paint in different variations. Mituvemeg himself had painted black and white stripes alternately on his whole face. His followers had black single lines on their foreheads and white circles on their cheeks, enclosing a black spot like a target.
Around the camp, the Indians looked like they were preparing for a masquerade, but coming at you through the trees they looked like devils incarnate.
The Indians were all lean. They walked on strong, well-formed legs and flat feet. They wore knives at their sides and hatchets in their belts. All carried guns, but there were also many bows resting against the canoes and quivers of animal skin full of iron or bone-tipped arrow heads.
As they sat down to eat on their haunches — a position they could maintain for hours — they looked other-worldly, a race apart, completely suited to the life they led. They looked strong, able, secure. The Frenchmen envied them.
The Indians, on the other hand, thought the French talked too much, a sign of inferiority to the Hurons, who felt that only women talked as much as these French. Ironically, with their incredible memories and formal, eloquent manner of speaking, most of the Hurons were at least as formidable at public speaking as the French. But they thought talking had a time and a place.
Like most Mongoloid peoples, the Indians were beardless and thought it amusing that men should wear hair on their faces like animals. They laughed at the ‘physical defects’ of the French, such as curly hair. Curly hair was ugly to their eyes, used to seeing it long and straight, But they thought red hair was special and so gave Cognac and Robin much attention. They laughed, too, at the way some of the French handled the canoes, but they admired their marksmanship and bravery.
As the two groups ate together and observed and measured each other Dollard explained the plan of attack to Annahotaha and Mituvemeg, who both approved it.
“When do you think the Iroquois will come?” asked Dollard.
“It is getting warm quickly now,” said Annahotaha. “The Iroquois will want to come to this very place to ambush the Ottawa tribe coming with Radisson from the winter hunt. I think we will not have to wait long.”
“Good,” said Dollard. “Although I hope it isn’t right away; my men are tired. We came at night — even the portages.”
“That was …ahh…very difficult,” he said diplomatically. “You should have had some of us with you,” said Annahotaha.
“Yes, we could have used you,” agreed Dollard. He called to Pilote.
“Pilote, you and Cognac and Forges take some of the Hurons up the river and see if anything is happening.”
“How many shall I take?”
“Nine or ten. Give yourself some leeway up there. You probably won’t see anything yet, but don’t take any chances.”
“All right. I’ll ask Chief Annahotaha to pick some men,” said Pilote.
Annahotaha gave Pilote his best scouts. Nine men got three canoes and began the arduous portage up the Long Sault
Over there is a small ruined fort,” said Annahotaha. “We can use it, but it must be reinforced. It is badly damaged.”
Dollard, Annahotaha and Mituvemeg walked over to inspect the ruined battle area. It was deep in the clearing. The clearing was on the south shore, facing the rapids. It was shaped like an inverted triangle with the base the farthest point from the end of the rapids and the apex leaning into the river. The ‘fort’, little more than a circular line of upturned tree trunks, roots, and rocks, was twenty yards from the base of the clearing and two hundred feet from the river, Behind it was a giant rock formation. It was in a strong position.
An Algonquin had been examining the structure. He rose, walked over to Mituvemeg and showed him an arrowhead and a piece of pipe.
“Algonkin,” Mituvemeg said. He examined the earth in the fort. “Last autumn, it was used by Algonkins. They did not lose any braves.”
Mituvemeg could be certain of that, The Algonquins, unlike the Hurons, did not bury their dead. There were no bones.
The enclosure was an adequate beginning for a good stockade. Much of the heavy work had been done. But it was not acceptable.
“We should repair this now,” said Annahotaha.
“Can’t it wait?” asked Dollard. “I’d like to give the men rest.”
“A rest from the Iroquois could shorten your life,” said Annahotaha.
“Nevertheless,” replied Dollard, “we have a good spot for a surprise attack. I don’t think that repair job has to be done right now. We probably won’t need that stockade at all. It’s too far from the end of the rapids. We can deploy our men closer to the foot of the rapids.”
Annahotaha nodded. Everything Dollard said was true, but as they walked back to the fire, he could not help looking back at the Algonquin ruin. His eyes measured the distances from the fort to the trees, from the fort to the river, from the fort to the foot of the rapids. Tomorrow morning he would suggest again that the stockade be reinforced.