The warmth at the end of April had changed to cold in early May. The men stayed close to the fires, their bones aching from the chill and the lack of sleep.
There was no water left.
The French who tried to eat the dry, powdered corn only made their thirst worse because the dry meal stuck to their mouths and throats. The Hurons, used to hardship like this, ate their meal without water uncomplainingly.
The day was almost finished. Louis Martin and Pilote had drawn the only real fire of the day when they attempted to get water.
Dollard spoke with Robert Jurie.
“If we can’t have much water, I’m glad we can’t have any. Imagine the fights there would be if we brought in a kettle or two.”
‘But it isn’t good without water. They can’t eat, Dollard. It’s getting to them.”
“I know, but I can’t think of anything to relieve them. We’ll just have to take it until we get a break. With this force, they seem intent on attacking Montreal. It was just luck that we met them.”
“Luck? said Jurie
They both laughed uneasily.
“I mean maybe the Iroquois’ fated day will be postponed and they’ll all want to go back to their longhouses.”
“Yeah,” said Jurie. “Then they’ll help us build new canoes, and we can all just go home.”
“The thing that makes me mad about this is the timing. Any other time and we’d have thousands of beaver pelts; now we’ll have to go back without any. And I borrowed money to come on this trip,” said Dollard.
“At least we’ll have Iroquois to our credit,” said Robert Jurie.
“True. It’ll be a while before the Iroquois go down a rapid without checking it out very carefully. At least we’ve accomplished that.”
“And there are a lot of dead Iroquois out there. We haven’t done badly.”
“All we have to do is get out of here. As long as the Iroquois continue to think of the clearing as the best way to us I think we’ll be all right. They won’t come by the river and they seem to think the woods don’t offer them sufficient running room. Thank God. Because if they keep coming up the center we’ll do all right. That center area can only hold so many people no matter how many they’ve got in reserve. We can handle that space. It’s the woods that worry me. If they attacked us from all sides with all their men I don’t think we could hold them for long.”
Let’s hope they don’t figure that out,” said Jurie.
“Right.’ he turned and called, “Annahotaha!”
Robert Jurie moved away to check the shot supplies. Annahotaha walked to Dollard’s side.
“Chief, is there anything we can do? It’s like Montreal. We’re trapped in here and they’re out there.”
“Tonight we will try a thing. I will prepare it,” said Annahotaha.
That night was quiet except for the everlasting war of nerves practiced by the Iroquois through their sporadic firing on the barricade. Some Hurons were returning the fire still. Annahotaha stopped them.
“Listen to me. It is the custom to reply to a shot lest the attacker think you are weak. But I tell you the situation has changed. They know we have few men compared to them. They know too that we have a limited amount of shot. If we reply shot for shot they know we will reduce our ammunition and then they can kill us easily.
“The Iroquois do this on purpose. If we shoot at them when we cannot hit them but only to make noise they will know we have no sense. They will laugh at us first and then they will kill us. We must not reply to them. If we do not shoot back for nothing we out-think the Iroquois chiefs and it is they who have no sense.”
The Hurons and Algonquins listened. Louis Taondechoren spoke.
“Chief Annahotaha is right. What is right to catch the deer in winter is not right in summer. We should not return their fire just for the sake of custom.”
The Huron and Algonquin bands agreed; Annahotaha left them with satisfaction and walked over to Mituvemeg.
Annahotaha and Mituvemeg waited until it was completely dark: the moon was behind clouds which covered most of the sky. They had been working in a corner all the late afternoon. Together they approached Dollard.
“Now we will try a thing,” said Annahotaha. “This would not work for the Iroquois because our fort has stone and earth but theirs is only wood.”
Annahotaha and Mituvemeg each chose his best archers. Two Algonquins and Mituvemeg and six Hurons stood at the rear of the barricade with bows and arrows wrapped in bark. Each had a pile of arrows held by a second man. A third man for each archer went to a front loophole and waited. The bowmen stood on boxes of powder, which made Dollard anxious, but there was nothing else to use. The men on the ground bent over, lit the arrowhead in the flame of the campfire and handed it quickly to the archer who aimed at the Iroquois palisade and fired.
Even standing at the rear of the barricade Mituvemeg and his fellow bowmen could not see the palisade but the men at the loopholes could see the flickering enemy fires inside the palisade and follow the flight of the arrows.
Annahotaha gave a signal. Nine hickory bows arched, held poised for an instant and shot flaming arrows at the Iroquois palisade. Two went wide; one sailed into the palisade striking…what?
But a scream rose.
Five slammed into the slender wooden poles of the Iroquois fort.
The Hurons at the loopholes called back to the bowmen.
“Fifty paces ahead.”
“Twenty-five paces left!”
“Too far — fifteen paces back!.”
The men below the archers had other arrows ready. Nine lights shone in the black of the barricade. The archers dipped their bows while fitting the shaft to the gut-string. Nine lights lifted in an arc hung steady in a row like a monster’s blazing eyes and nine fire arrows sprang from the bows with a soft, low tzzzzip.’ Eight hits.
The men at the loopholes confirmed each hit to his man and told him where he had hit. Annahotaha stared out a loophole.
“This side, you three, fire more to the left. The others are good except the last man on the right. Fire slightly more to the right. Same height. Now!”
Again the bowmen received the flaming shafts, fitted them, arched their bows and let fly. Nine hits. The Iroquois were in a momentary panic. They had not expected this attack. They had not expected to find this opposition in the forest at all.
Some of the arrows were burning themselves out. Others had found their marks to be dry and flammable. In moments the flame from one arrow had spread to three poles. Iroquois were outside pulling low arrows out with their hands. In two cases the flames had reached such proportions that the Mohawks and Onondagas simply cut through the branches used as lashing and severed the burning poles, kicking them from behind so that they fell, burning harmlessly in front of the palisade. That left the palisade weaker and open.
As more arrows flew into the Iroquois palisade, a thunder of musket fire erupted from the surrounding forest. The allies took the loopholes and returned the fire, shooting some Iroquois, who, illuminated by the burning arrows they were trying to remove, made easy targets. More Iroquois ran to the river with the Frenchmen’s kettles and threw water on arrows higher on their palisade.
In a few minutes, Annahotaha and Mituvemeg’s men were out of flaming arrows, and the firing from the Iroquois demanded their attention.
Dollard’s men took the opportunity to rush to the river and managed to get a new supply of water.
Twenty minutes later most of the musket fire had ceased and the fires were under control. The Iroquois palisade was badly damaged in four places. The Iroquois took poles from the back of their fort and planted them where the burned poles were, lashing them with branches as before. Others poured water all over the front of the palisade so that a repeat performance would not occur that night.
Annahotaha smiled to himself. He, Mituvemeg and Dollard were standing at a loophole, watching the Iroquois repair their palisade.
“That was brilliant, Annahotaha and Mituvemeg!” said Dollard.
“It did not do real damage to the Iroquois,” said Annahotaha.
“No– but look at the men!” said Dollard.”And we have water!”
The men were exuberant. Tired, hungry, dirty and agitated from the week of war an hour earlier, but now not thirsty, were laughing and joking, revived by the fire arrow attack on the Iroquois. They congratulated the Indian archers and their cohorts.
“Good,” said Mituvemeg. “Good. Good. Good.”
“We needed something like that, eh?” said Dollard.
Annahotaha watched the men carefully.
“Yes. We must take the initiative again. It is the only way, I think.”
“My men are resolute and strong,” said Mituvemeg.
He knew what Annahotaha was thinking. “And the French?”
Dollard looked at Mituvemeg.
“They will all be fine. There were a couple I wasn’t completely certain of before we started this trip. Now I am certain of them all. And your men, Annahotaha?”
“Some of them… ” he broke off and watched his men laughing with the French and Algonquins. “… if we take the initiative…” He watched his fellow Hurons.
“My people were as numerous and as strong as those Iroquois before … it is difficult to become accustomed to defeat. My people have had enough of defeat.”