The year is 1755. It is a time of unrest. Both the English and the French are battling for control of the North American continent. Both seek the support of the united and strong Iroquois Confederation. Deprivations are extant on both sides of the quarrel, the French and Indians of Canada against the English, the Mohawk and Seneca of the Americas.
As always, in any time of dissension, there are those who seek to profit from the ruin of others.
The Territory of the Iroquois Indians
Lake George area in upstate New York State
By the Lake-That-Turns-to-Rapids
Saskekowa Moon, September 1755
There were eight enemy warriors paddling their two canoes on the lake. One canoe held four of the Ottawa warriors. The other carried two Frenchmen and two more of the Ottawa. At the sight, Sarah’s stomach twisted. They were all heavily armed with guns, tomahawks, hatchets and knives, some carrying two muskets. Sarah’s guide, on the other hand, possessed only one musket, a hatchet, a tomahawk and several knives. And he was only one against eight.
Sarah bit her lip and placed her arm around Marisa, a younger woman who was under Sarah’s charge. Although Marisa was now full-grown, Sarah, at twenty-and-nine, was the elder by ten years. Plus, Sarah was Marisa’s confidante and companion, as well as her maid. She was also Marisa’s tutor, and, as far as Sarah understood it, they were best friends. So it had been for most of Marisa’s life, and fourteen years of Sarah’s.
“They have seen it,” whispered Black Eagle.
“What?” muttered Marisa.
“The silver dish. They will come here. And when they discover it, they will find us. Go to the horses now, mount them and ride away from here. Go now! Go fast! Ride to Albany. That will be safest.”
“And leave you?” Marisa said.
Black Eagle stared long and hard at Marisa, his look emanating a love so deep, it caused Sarah to sigh. In truth, for a moment she wondered if she might ever be on the receiving end of such attention from a man—one who was so deeply in love with you that he was willing to give his life to protect you.
Sarah shook her head and gazed away. She might never know. Indeed, if circumstances continued in the same vein as they had begun this day, this might very well be her last day upon this earth.
At last, Black Eagle yanked his focus away from Marisa. “Yes, you are to leave me, and at once. I will hold the enemy off for as long as I can.” As he spoke, he turned his attention to his weapons, whereupon he proceeded to load his musket with powder and lead. “Go! Now!” He waved them away.
Marisa hesitated. Then, as though compelled, she inched toward Black Eagle and laid her hand on his arm. “I cannot leave you.”
Sarah would have spoken up in denial, for it was her duty to protect her charge. But she was spared the opportunity.
“You must,” responded Black Eagle gently. “If you stay, you might be killed accidentally. Now, go! Both of you, go!”
Grabbing a handful of the material of Marisa’s dress, Sarah urged the woman to crawl backward with her. But Marisa broke free of Sarah’s hold and again scooted close to Black Eagle. Placing her fingers over Black Eagle’s hand, she massaged it tenderly before she said, “I want you to know that I love you.”
He replied simply, “I know. Now, go!”
Unfortunately for Marisa, there was little more to be said. Sarah knew this, and although Sarah watched the two lovers exchange a look, she backed away, knowing that this time, Marisa followed.
The horses were already saddled. Both women were good riders, and though Sarah offered a hand to help Marisa into her seat, Marisa waved her away. Sarah wasted no time and ran to the other mount, but had no more than placed her foot into the stirrup when Thompson appeared out of the woods, running toward them. He was a big man and unclean. Plus, despite the fact he was supposed to be their real guide, in Sarah’s opinion, he was little more than a bully. Lucklessly for them, he had his sights set on Marisa and was racing toward her like a well-aimed bullet.
“Yaw!” he shouted as he ran. “Where do ye think ye are a-goin’?”
Neither Sarah nor Marisa had a chance to utter a word. In an instant, Thompson had laid siege upon them, attacking Marisa first, pulling her off her seat. Instinctively a scream formed in Sarah’s throat, but more than aware of the enemy about them, she contained it. After whisking her foot out of the stirrup, she came down, landing on both feet. Immediately, she pulled two pistols from their cases on her mount, pushing the guns into the pockets of her dress, and rushed toward Marisa. Thompson held Marisa in his grip, but by sheer willpower alone, Sarah snatched her out of their tormentor’s clutches.
Thompson was a persistent opponent, and bringing up his flintlock, he focused its deadly barrel on Marisa. However, luck was on their side. His gun wasn’t primed.
Both Sarah and Marisa ran for cover. After extracting one of the weapons from her pocket, Sarah handed it to Marisa, keeping the other gun for herself.
Fortunately, Thompson’s shot never materialized. Perhaps the brute was well aware of the threesome’s precarious situation. Mayhap he was cognizant that Black Eagle and the two women might never escape.
Whatever the reason, instead of loading the weapon and finishing his purpose, Thompson merely grinned toward the spot where the women had disappeared. Then, clutching hold of both the horses, Thompson fled back into the woods, but not before he said, “I leave ye to yer fate.”
“Pray,” Marisa mumbled softly. “Black Eagle was right. It was Thompson who has been the cause of our troubles.”
“Yes,” agreed Sarah, “so it is.”
“Well, there’s little we can do now. Let us return to the shore and help Black Eagle as best we can.”
“Yes.” But exactly what help they could be to him remained to be seen. They needed Black Eagle’s protection much more than he required theirs. Still, both women bent down to hands and knees, and pushing their skirts out of the way, they scooted back toward Black Eagle.
They found Black Eagle in the same spot where they had left him, and Sarah was quick to note that one of the canoes, the one carrying the two Frenchmen, was continuing forward on the lake. However, the enemy’s other canoe—the one transporting the four Ottawa warriors—had turned to shore. Sarah glanced at Black Eagle. This was it. It was only she, Marisa and he against a well-armed enemy. What was Black Eagle thinking? Was he preparing himself mentally and physically for what was to come?
But what if the confrontation never came? After all, it was possible that the enemy might examine the silver cup that she and Marisa had mistakenly left next to the shore, the one that had obviously caught their attention, and do no more than be happy with the treasure.
Even as she thought it, Sarah knew it would not be so. These seasoned warriors were Indian. They would take witness of the tracks both she and Marisa had made when they had been washing up after their noonday meal. Indeed, with all the impressions she and Marisa had left on the shoreline, their prints would lead the Ottawa warriors to them, and neither she, Black Eagle, nor Marisa would be spared.
Meanwhile, Black Eagle was tense, alert.
“Sir Eagle,” Marisa said.
Briefly, Black Eagle swung around to look at her. Obviously he had not been expecting this turn of events. He looked incredulous. “Why are you not gone?” he asked in a whisper. “I told you to leave.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but we cannot do so,” Marisa whispered. “I fear that Mr. Thompson overpowered us before we had even attained our seats on the horses.”
“Where is Thompson now?”
“He rode away, taking the horses with him. But before he left, Sarah was able to secure these.” She held up her pistol. Sarah did the same.
“Do you know how to use those weapons?” he asked her.
Sarah nodded, and Marisa whispered, “Yes.”
Black Eagle ordered beneath his breath, “Both of you, move back behind me. Stay down. Fire only if you get a good shot, otherwise do no more than watch. If I go down, do not fight the enemy. Yield to them. It is doubtful that they will kill you. Do you understand? Do nothing.”
Sarah and Marisa both nodded, and following Black Eagle’s orders, they each backed away.
Panic was mounting within Sarah, but oddly, now that the moment of confrontation had arrived, a strange calm came over her. She positioned herself for the best possible advantage, checked her powder, and took aim.
Meanwhile, the canoe slid silently to the shore. The warriors disembarked in the water, keeping themselves low. Slowly, quietly, they brought their canoe farther inland, anchoring it on the rocks lining the sandy bank.
Stepping onto the ground, one of the warriors bent down, examining the tracks over the rocks. Another warrior crept forward toward the bushes, where Black Eagle, Sarah and Marisa were hiding. The two other warriors were sneaking toward the item that had gained their attention—the silver dish. Black Eagle waited with what appeared to be great patience, until the warrior who was stealing in the direction of the bushes was almost upon him. Then, crying out, he jumped up, the savage attack and the element of surprise in his favor. The ploy worked, but only for a fraction of a second. Still, it was enough. Black Eagle thrust his tomahawk into the warrior’s neck.
However, with the first war cry, the three other Ottawa warriors went into action. Black Eagle was ready for them. With musket in his left hand, he fired a shot toward one of them. An almost instant scream followed, and another warrior hit the ground.
Without pause, Black Eagle tore forward, launching himself toward the other two warriors. They were prepared, muskets ready.
Sarah had taken steady aim toward them. She dare not miss. She fired. It was a good shot. Another one of the warriors fell.
Unfortunately, Black Eagle hadn’t waited to see if the shot made its mark. Instead, he hurled himself toward the remaining warrior. The Ottawa was ready for him and thrust out at Black Eagle with his tomahawk.
Marisa gasped, for it was a deadly joust, but Black Eagle was agile and quick. He threw himself down, turning a somersault underneath the man’s arm. Coming up on the other side of the man, and with a backhand, Black Eagle rammed his tomahawk into the back of his opponent. The warrior was thrown off balance. Regaining his feet, Black Eagle finished the job. Using his hatchet, he landed a disabling blow into the warrior’s arm.
Still, the Ottawa was standing. Taking hold of his tomahawk, Black Eagle dealt the man a clean blow to his chest. That finished it. The Ottawa went down.
But it seemed the ordeal wasn’t over. Black Eagle was calling to the women. “Come!” He pointed toward the lake. “Do you see? Their friends have come back to investigate. Hurry to the canoe. We’ll take our chances on the water.”
Sarah and Marisa jumped to their feet. Springing out of the bushes, they made a line to the canoe. Luckily, the enemy had left their paddles in the dugout, and Black Eagle had set the boat out into the lake. Both women hurriedly splashed toward it.
By this time, Black Eagle was waist deep in the water and shouting, “Get in. Pick up a paddle.”
Already, shots from the oncoming canoe were hitting the water around them, the barrage a deadly reminder of what was to be if they didn’t escape. Sarah plopped herself into a seat and reached out to help Marisa, but her young charge needed little assistance. Marisa was more than able and ready to seat herself. Quickly, they each picked up a paddle and, adding their assistance to Black Eagle, they set out in the water.
Without warning Thompson reappeared, splashing his way toward them. Sarah lunged toward Marisa, her fingers coming into contact with Marisa’s weapon, since Sarah’s pistol was useless, having just been fired.
Marisa stayed her hand. “Maybe he has come to his senses and will help us.”
“I fear your heart is too kind,” exclaimed Sarah over the noise of the water and the oncoming enemy. However, Sarah hesitated.
Thompson pulled himself up alongside the canoe and plopped himself into it. He even picked up a paddle. Maybe she was wrong. Amidst all the adversity, perhaps the man had changed the color of his stripes.
“Let’s get out of here!” Thompson yelled, and Black Eagle didn’t argue. After hoisting himself into the boat and settling his paddle into the water, Black Eagle guided the boat out into the deepest part of the lake, heading west, away from the enemy, but in the direction of a sound that had Sarah’s heartbeat picking up such speed she could feel it in her throat.
It was a waterfall, and from the noise of it, a large one. Was this their only advantage?
Perhaps it was so, for they were outnumbered. In a fight, it would be the two men against four of the enemy, two French, two Ottawa. Worse, Thompson was an obvious traitor whose actions could not be trusted. Still, now that he was back among them, it was Thompson’s neck as well as their own.
“Faster!” yelled Black Eagle.
Arrows, aimed at their speeding canoe, hit the water beside them with deadly force. Marisa’s paddle made contact with the lake’s surface at an angle, causing her to tip dangerously out of their craft. Sarah threw down her paddle and pulled Marisa back against her with one arm while she gripped the side of the wet canoe with her other. Though her fingers slipped, Sarah held fast.
As Sarah nestled Marisa into her arms, the two women sat silently, riding out the jerks and sways of the boat.
The scent of Thompson’s unwashed body assailed Sarah, causing her to wonder that a human being could emit such odor. Why was Mr. Thompson back? Though she feared it was for no good, Sarah held her tongue.
“Faster!” Black Eagle yelled again.
Behind them, the French and Ottawa kept up a steady stream of fire, the arrows landing dangerously close. The odds were against Black Eagle. It was impossible. And yet, he must escape. They all must. If they didn’t get away…
How had they gotten themselves into this? Suddenly the scheme of journeying to New Hampshire to visit friends seemed a bad idea, indeed. Was it only minutes ago—perhaps no more than thirty—when Sarah and her ward had been seated beside the lake, calmly washing up after their noonday meal?
But that was when they had first caught a glimpse of the enemy. Had it not been for the silver dish they had left at the water’s edge, the enemy might have passed them by. But it was not to be.
The Ottawa had spotted the dish. They had investigated. And now, because of her own error, she had taken another’s life.
The killing of another human being was not an action to be entered into lightly. But, it had been kill or be killed. Ultimately for her, there was no going back now.
The sound of rushing water, of the pounding roar of the waterfall, drowned out her thoughts. She could now see the deadliness of their position. Rapids. Surely, Black Eagle wasn’t thinking of braving those?
Instinctively, Sarah leaned toward the shoreline, as though by sheer inclination alone she might steer the boat in that direction. An arrow hit the water, scraping her hand. Close, much too close. Perhaps the rapids were their only means of escape, after all. Black Eagle must be thinking so, for he was steering their canoe directly toward the source of that turbulence.
Again, Sarah’s heart jumped into her throat.
Meanwhile, the canoe had picked up speed, heading toward the waterfall at a deadly pace. Marisa was still leaning back into Sarah’s arms, and Sarah instinctively tightened her hold on her friend. There was no changing course now. The speed of the water had them within its grip.
Sarah threw a look over her shoulder. Even now, the enemy was almost upon them.
Truly it was a test. Which would come first, the watery death on the rapids, or at the sure hand of the Ottawas?
The velocity of the current pushed at them and thrust them one way and then the other, taking them into an ever-faster speed toward the noise that signified the end: the waterfall.
Another well-aimed arrow knocked against the canoe’s lining, barely missing Sarah’s shoulder. Was the enemy, too, chancing the rapids? Sarah glanced back hurriedly. No, the French and Ottawa were turning back, paddling their boat toward the southern shore of the lake. Sarah inhaled deeply, but her relief was short-lived.
Before them lay a greater danger and surely as deadly a hazard as the Ottawa.
Black Eagle struggled to turn their canoe toward the northern shoreline, away from the enemy, but the currents pulled him back.
“Damn!” Black Eagle muttered. The curse word seemed unusual coming from his lips. In all their adventures so far on the trail, Sarah had never heard him utter anything but more formal speech. She watched helplessly as Black Eagle set his paddle into the water once again, pressing to gain the opposite shoreline from their enemy. He had no more than set his course when a hidden eddy took hold of their canoe and swung it around and around.
The canoe rocked back and forth unnaturally, and Sarah, looking back over her shoulder, was startled that Thompson had come up onto his knees and was crawling forward. Reaching down, he grabbed Marisa out of Sarah’s grasp.
Instinctively, Sarah tugged at Marisa, trying to keep hold of her. When that failed, she used all her strength to pummel Thompson with her fists, but he was much too big and strong, and he kept a grasp on Marisa despite all of Sarah’s attempts to thwart him. It looked bad. He raised Marisa to his shoulder level and would have thrown her from the canoe, into the lethal undercurrents of the eddy, had Sarah not bitten his arm.
Thompson and Marisa screamed at the same time, but Sarah clutched at Marisa, and she fell back into the canoe, guided by Sarah’s hand. But Thompson didn’t give up. He grabbed hold of Marisa again.
At last, Black Eagle, who had been centering his effort in the act of saving their canoe, became aware of the fight. Throwing down his paddle, he surged back toward the skirmish to confront Thompson.
Thompson had no choice now but to let Marisa go, and the two men, fighting in an upright position, sent the boat rocking so greatly Sarah feared it would tip over and throw them all into the tumultuous water.
By the good luck of the Lord, it didn’t happen. However, their fate appeared to hang on the ability of a single man, Black Eagle, to best a man who was both bigger and stronger than he.
Thompson raised a knife. Black Eagle blocked Thompson’s hand, thrusting the man’s arm high in the air. Each struggled for supremacy. The canoe lurched precariously against the currents, and Sarah and Marisa used their energy to keep the boat afloat.
The struggle pitched the canoe out of the eddy. The forceful motion hurled the boat more furiously than ever into the rushing current, setting the canoe steadily toward the thundering sound of the rapids. Just how high was this waterfall?
The two men didn’t notice, locked as they were in their own mortal struggle. Thompson launched out at Black Eagle, socking him in the jaw. The blow knocked Black Eagle backward, but he recovered easily and shot forward, catching hold of Thompson’s arm and raising it again high in the air.
Both men fell down into the canoe. Thompson looked up, and Sarah was witness to the horror that came instantly onto his face. Without further pretense at the fight, Thompson let go of Black Eagle and dived over the edge of the canoe, disappearing into swirling streams of water.
Black Eagle, who was still in the throes of battle, must have briefly felt the urge to do the same—to take the conflict into the water’s fatal depths. But with a quick look about him, his gaze turned to one of love as his eyes sought out Marisa.
Then, a flash of dread fell over Black Eagle’s features. It was indisputable. Their boat was on a one-way path to the falls.
They were doomed.
Black Eagle knelt beside Marisa. Within his gaze was so much love and admiration that Sarah felt as though she were an intruder in something utterly private. It was as if Black Eagle were saying to Marisa, by intention alone, that were this to be his last moment on earth, he would shower her with adoration.
Marisa appeared to be of a similar frame of mind. Her stare at him matched his. Sarah glanced away, feeling as if she were trespassing.
It couldn’t last, however. Time wouldn’t allow it. Black Eagle at last jerked his gaze away, and Sarah watched as he scanned the scene in front of them. Instantly, he sat up, alert.
“Take Sarah’s arm,” he yelled to Marisa. “Don’t let go!” He got to his feet.
Marisa and Sarah exchanged a gaze and took hold of each other.
Black Eagle grasped Marisa’s arm. “Don’t let go of me,” he ordered. “Use all your strength, both of you. Use everything in you, but don’t break your grip on each other.”
Marisa and Sarah nodded as their boat, caught in the currents, tipped over the edge of the falls. Both Marisa and Sarah screamed. But it wasn’t over, not yet.
There was a branch Sarah hadn’t noticed, a strong and sturdy part of a mighty oak tree that had extended over the falls. If Black Eagle could but reach it with his arm…
He did it. Black Eagle seized the tree limb at the same moment their canoe would have carried them past it.
The force of the motion jerked all three from the canoe, and there they hung, each one dangling from the other’s grasp. Were they saved? Sarah couldn’t say with certainty. She was clenching with all her might onto Marisa, who was, in turn, grasping Black Eagle’s arm. But the force of the movement out of the canoe swung both the women back and forth, causing Sarah’s grip to slacken.
Thank goodness Indians were conditioned to carry heavy loads, for Black Eagle kept them both close, using only one arm to do so. Then, taking advantage of their natural momentum, Black Eagle began to swing them both toward the shore. It wasn’t that far away.
“Hold on!” Black Eagle shouted. “I’m going to sweep you both to shore.”
“I can’t,” she hollered, crying, bringing up her other hand to obtain a better grip. “I can’t keep hold. It’s too slippery!”
“Nyoh, you can. You must!”
“I’m trying to, but—”
“She’s slipping away from me!” Marisa yelled.
“I’ve got you,” Black Eagle called to her. “Keep hold. Keep hold!”
But Sarah’s hands were too wet, as were Marisa’s. Though Sarah tried with all her might, her grip was loosening. Black Eagle was pitching them toward shore with all due haste, but Sarah’s strength was failing.
Marisa wouldn’t let go. “Sarah! Keep hold!”
With a deafening scream, Sarah’s grip broke, and she fell, her screams echoing over the rushing water, drowning out the sounds of the pounding weight of the falls.
The last thought she had as she swooped down into the water was that she had failed in her duty—she would not be there to chaperone Marisa and Black Eagle. Indeed, her fate now lay elsewhere.