Blood soaked the ground around Etienne’s feet. The air rang with the cries of dying men and the bang of muskets. Etienne could not seem to make his eyes focus. He was not the type of man use usually plunged into battle or the type to believe in a cause and fight for honor. Etienne wanted to be a person who would fight for a cause. He wanted to be a person who lived with honor and as a gentleman. He wanted to be a man like Chasseur Blanchette instead of being the coward that he was. Chasseur Blanchette was everything that Etienne was not.
Chasseur fought with the Algonquin Indians during the Upper Louisiana Spanish War. The Dakota Indians took him captive during that War. Chasseur could have given up and died. He probably should have found an easier cause to fight for. But Chasseur was not that kind of man. He would never take the easy route simply because it was easy. Etienne was a man-servant at that time. Life was simple and right and wrong were like black and white.
“That prick, Mannford! He assigned me to the Algonquin as if I were some useless translator!” The man who would be Chasseur raged. But he was not called Chasseur then. He was a French nobleman called Louis Blanchette.
“The Algonquin are said to be noble savages, my lord.” Etienne tried to cheer him up.
“I shouldn’t be a translator! I’m supposed to be leading troops as my father did! Mannford has always had it in for me. He’s hated me from the beginning!”
“Things are never as bad as they seem. This insult can be used to your advantage,” Etienne insisted. “They have underestimated you at their own peril.”
Blanchette’s mouth curved into a small smile. Laughter was a rarity from Blanchette but his smiles were ready enough. Blanchette liked to complain but it would not go beyond that. Blanchette was too honorable to disobey a direct order and he would never leave Etienne to the Algonquin’s mercy. Blanchette would yell and gripe but he would never let someone else’s action take away his honor.
“You’re right, Etienne. I’ll have to work my way up and prove Mannford wrong. I’ll translate faster than all those twits!”
Etienne was glad to see that Blanchette’s spirits were raised but he could not trust the swiftest of changes. Blanchette’s moods may go from melancholy to joyous in the blink of an eye but they changed from joy to sadness even quicker. Etienne could already see the aftermath in his head and it was not a pretty picture!
“The generals are blind if they cannot see your many talents, sir.” Etienne tried not to cringe as he said it.
“I’ll go over Mannford’s head,” Blanchette continued muttering as he went to survey the troops.
Mannford was nowhere in sight. God above must have heard Etienne’s prayers! A blind man could have seen that Blanchette was seething and Mannford would not have hesitated to take advantage of Blanchettte’s mood.
The Indian braves that Blanchette was meant to be translating for seemed to know some English already. Command would not have let a small detail like that stop them from sending a translator. Etienne had never held a position in the military but he knew how such things worked from Blanchette. Blanchette had had Etienne as a manservant for over ten years. Etienne and Blanchette both had seen enough bureaucracy to last a lifetime. More would surely come with the military career Blanchette had chosen.
The Indian braves did not seem to know anything about the military. There were no straight lines or orderly tents. These men seemed to thrive on chaos.
Blanchette couldn’t sleep if Etienne did not lay out the clothes just so. Living with these Indians would be a slow torture for him. Mannford must really have it out for Blanchette. This type of disorder would get under Blanchette’s skin and make his life miserable. Mannford must have known that.
“The general thinks that these men are disorderly because they cannot understand his commands,” Isaacs, the colonel in charge of the Algonquins explained. “He does not seem to understand that these Indians are unorderly because they enjoy it. Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of chaos now and then?”
“Most army men see some since in orderly lines and troop formations. Battles have been won with troops marching,” Blanchette told the colonel in a serious voice.
“I doubt a translator will make them see sense. They know what I’m saying perfectly well and they have no problem ignoring me.”
Blanchette and Etienne could not argue with the man’s logic.
“I’m sure that an experienced leader like you can turn these men into soldiers, sir,” Blanchette said as confidently as he could.
“These men are savages, Blanchette. They’ll never be soldiers,” the colonel said briskly.
“Mannford said that victory at Smithsmill would not have been possible without the Algonquin,” Blanchette reminded him.
“The Algonquin are fighters, not soldiers. They will never be soldiers, Blanchette.”
Isaacs rode away with that, leaving Blanchette and Etienne alone among the Indians. Etienne tried not to look nervous. He was glad that these Algonquin were on Franch’s side. They looked fierce enough standing still. It would be terrifying to ride against them as enemies.
“Isaacs thinks along the same lines as Mannford,” Blanchette grumbled.
“Isaacs thinks the same way most of the settlers and traders do,” Etienne argued.
“I thought Smithsmill would have changed some of those views.”
“It takes time,” Etienne reminded his master.
“Change might need a push or two to rush it along.”
“Is that how you’ll get back at Mannford? You can make the French colonists accept the Indian warriors?”
Blanchette snorted. “No one can do that. I’m going to remind the Algonquin that they are warriors. I’m going to unleash them on the Dakota.”
“You might be able to find out more about the Dakota. The Algonquin have fought them before,” Etienne reminded him.
“The French have fought the Dakota before too. Their strategies are not a secret.”
“It seems like a surprise each time to me,” Etienne complained.
“You’ve never studied strategy, Etienne. Mannford and Isaacs have spent years doing just that. They’re not surprised at all when the Dakota attack. Mannford, Isaacs and I can all see an attack coming before it happens,” Blanchette swore.
“Do the Algonquin know strategy? Imagine what fighters the braves would be if they knew strategy along with the Dakota’s technique!”
“The Algonquin are not like us. They fight for whoever pays them most. They are savages without honor. France could be at war with them next! Teaching them how to fight us is the last thing we should do.”
Etienne nodded his understanding before saying, “We need to give those braves a reason to fight with us. They’re ignoring the colonel’s orders even though the braves understand him. The Algonquin are fighting for us and against us at the same time.”
“How do you think the braves can be convinced to fight with France?”
“Give the braves something that no one else can. Promise them horses and guns. Promise them land,” Etienne suggested.
“None of the Indians think that land can be owned,” Blanchette began. “That may change now that more Europeans are coming. Bourgmont’s ships and settlements have proven that the new world can be a profitable business for more than slaves and sugar. Real business can be done here and all of Europe wants part of the new land.”
“The Algonquin and Dakota know European ways. They know what this land is worth.”
“The Algonquin will make a deal if the payment is right. The only thing the Algonquin fear more than France is Britain. They’ll want protection.” Blanchette put his finger to his chin, deep in thought.
“Their chief should be here to speak with you shortly. Isaacs told the chiefs you were coming and ordered them to be here.”
“Those chiefs won’t come just because Isaacs told them to. They’re making a point,” Blanchette told her servant with sarcasm dripping from his words.
“That may make our job easier,” Etienne commented. Blanchette always seemed to see life as a glass half-empty. Etienne needed to remind him that there were other ways to look at the world. “This is not an impossible task.”
“It would be impossible for them but not for you and me,” Blanchette told him with another half-smile. “You and I can see what this place could be if the bureaucracy were no longer in place. The Indians could be noble warriors against instead of savages. They could be great if they learn to make alliances and work with other men.”
“We’d better go find the chiefs then.” Etienne was not sure if he should be laughing or dragging his master home for his own safety.
“Isaacs must have chased them away. I thought that he was smarter than this.”
“Isaacs thought that the chiefs were like his soldiers. He thought that those chiefs would follow orders.”
“Isaacs must have forgotten that not all men like being ordered around,” Etienne reminded Blanchette.
“Not all men are as patient and understanding as you,” Blanchette joked with Etienne.
“The Algonquin certainly will not be.”