Chapter 22: The Iroquois War Party sets out.
Annenraes guided his elm-bark canoe into the current. It sat low in the water with Toca, a warrior, in the bow and his son, Kepitinet, in the middle.
On the river, the seemingly silent flotilla churned its rhythmic way downstream with two hundred repetitious puffs of breath visible over the bobbing heads. Sixty- five war canoes had been traveling for eleven hours when Annenraes signaled the day's end.
The lead canoes turned and headed for a wide shore, and the grateful Onondagas leaped out, pulled their craft to safety, and began to prepare the camp. Some went for firewood, some for dead branches for the kettles to rest on. Dozens went back to the river with nets to catch fish for the sagamite and others inspected the canoes for damage.
Kepitinet was exhausted but refused to allow his father to see it. He asked what to do and was told to get large flat stones to crush the corn. He ran off happily. His excitement was at a high pitch, traveling with his father, the chief, on the warpath.
Annenraes automatically checked the bottom of his canoe as the others did. No nicks. Many found slight tears which they repaired with birch bark, ochre and a daub of pitch, making the closure water-tight.
He would have taken the larger war canoes that could handle six men, but the Ottawa River's rapids made that impossible.
Toca returned from the forest edge with four long branches and some birch bark. He trimmed the branches until they were all roughly three feet high and, using the flat end of his hatchet, he pounded them into the ground in a long rectangular pattern. Kepitinet returned with two large stones, and he tossed them on the ground then Toca motioned for him to place large pieces of birch bark over the sticks. They moved to the canoe Annenraes had inspected, lifted it and placed it slantingly upon the birch bark that protected the canoe from any rip from the upraised branches. The canoe would cover them as they slept with their blankets on their rolled, reed mats over pine boughs.
Some of the Onondagas had been smoking as they pulled in, so fires for the meal set easily. They flavored the sagamite with the fish the men had caught. They threw all the fish in the pot. No cleaning. The kettle did that. The bones either sank to the bottom or stayed with the fish and the men spat them out while chewing.
After eating, the men sat around the fire and spoke of the coming battle. At Annenraes' fire Toca got up to relieve himself and Kepitinet took advantage, moving to sit beside his father. He had been wanting to speak to his father alone but had seen no opportunity.
"Father, how many French will we kill in this battle?"
"I do not know, Kepitinat. The first place we will attack is the fort at Montreal. If we surround the place and allow no messengers to carry news of our attack, we may then safely try to move on to Three Rivers and then Kebec. In those places, there are many French and Huron and Algonkin too."
"What if someone sees us going to Montreal and warns the other places?" he said, knees up, arms around them, looking into the fire.
"Someone may well see us. We have to be alert. Watching is a job you can do. Watch for those who might escape and warn the others."
He sat back excitedly. "I can do that father. In the woods, I am like a cougar from the Erie lands."
Annenraes laughed, "Yes, you are."
"Do you remember the time I snuck up on you and jumped out from behind a tree? You did not know I was there!"
"Had I been a Huron you would have captured me surely," he laughed.
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