1789 “Run! Winda, run, hide!” Her mother pushed her toward the trees, but Winda clung desperately onto her sleeve. “Hurry little one, before they see you.” Winda’s tiny hand was ripped from the security of her mother with a forcefulness that she had never known before. Her mother pushed her again. Winda ran across the clearing in her Cree village and into the woods as fast as her legs could go.
“Do not look back,” her mother called her.
Branches slapped at her face, roots tried to trip her, bushes grabbed at her ankles as she ran. Winda followed a woman who carried a baby in her arms. The woman tripped and dropped her baby, which landed on a rock, its lifeless body draped over it, face down. Winda heard the thud of the arrow as it pierced into the woman’s neck and watched as her blood spurted out with every heartbeat. Winda forced herself to run.
She didn’t stop until she reached the river and hid behind a big rock. Winda gasped for air and tried to ease the pain in her chest. It seemed a long time before she dared to look over the rock. Winda could see the flames through the trees as her beloved Cree village burned. She stifled a scream when her best friend was hit in the back with an arrow as she rushed toward her. Tears ran down Winda’s face while she watched her friend struggle on the ground until there was no life left in her body.
Warriors came through the smoke toward her, one with his arrow aimed at her heart. An ugly sneer spread across his scarred face as he came within a few yards of her. He pulled back on his bow ready to strike.
A younger warrior walked confidently through the trees and held up his hand. “Stop,” he said in Ojibwa. “I want this one.”
Scar Face turned, his expression turning dark and deadly. “I will kill this one.” He pulled back further on his bow. “They all die today.”
“No!” The other man stepped in between Winda and certain death. He faced the other man. “I ask for this one,” he said as he turned and looked Winda over then back at his friend. “She is to be my slave.”
Scar Face grinned wickedly at Winda and then lowered his weapon. “That will be good. We need more slaves, women slaves.” He nodded to the younger warrior and walked away.
The second man lifted her up and held her close to his chest. Winda could smell the sweat and felt his hard chest as she struggled to get free. He only laughed and squeezed her tight. Winda held in a sob as his fingers dug deep into her arm. “You call me Pakwis,” he told her before he set her on the ground and took her hand in a vice-like grip. As they walked back through the trees, other Ojibwa warriors greeted her captor and poked at her until he fended them off. Winda wanted to close her eyes, but couldn’t. She had never seen so many of her people dead like this before. Her uncle was speared to a tree, his scalp without his full head of grey hair. She could hear the screams of a woman as three men dragged her behind a bush. Valuable items and food were set in a pile in the clearing. Every wigwam was ablaze.
Pakwis stood her beside a nine summers old boy named Little Fox. He cried while he stood there and watched the warriors celebrate. Be brave, Winda wanted to tell him, do not let them know you are afraid. That was what her father had taught her. Winda wiped the tears out of her eyes and looked around for her parents. She held her breath when the warrior with the scar on his face approached. Little Fox wet his pants and watched as it ran down onto his moccasins. The warrior took out his knife and slashed the boy’s throat.
1800. Late spring, eleven years later. A fierce wind blew across the lake and headed westward along the dunes. It followed the river as it wound through the hills covered with pine, spruce, maple and ash trees. Snow and sleet whipped around the small Ojibwa village that nestled in the valley. It was in a territory that the Hudson’s Bay Company owned called Rupert’s Land, a land that the Ojibwa still occupied as free people.
Winda sat close to the fire and watched the lodge billow in and out. Behind her, sacks of food and clay pots swung on their hooks. Wind howled through the cracks in the walls. She pulled the buffalo robe tighter around her shoulders and watched the door, waiting for Pakwis to return, hoping that he wouldn’t.
“Our husband will not return tonight,” Lanick told her from across the fire. “He has gone hunting.”
Winda put another log on the fire before she looked over at Pakwis’s first wife. “He told you this but did not say anything to me?”
Lanick shrugged. “Surprising, is it not? You are his favourite.”
Winda stirred the fire with a stick and watched the flames. “But I am still his slave.”
Lanick let out a snort. “Not as far as he is concerned. He loves you, you know.”
“He has never told me,” Winda shot at her. “Just because he saved my life a long time ago...” she let that hang,
“I can tell. It is you he wants in his bed, not me. And that is my wish; then he leaves me alone.”
“But, you are his true wife, I’m just the one,” she lowered her head, “the one he shares his bed with.” Winda looked back up at the other woman. “I did not have a say in it,” she said with disdain. “All I want is to leave this hateful place and find my true people.” A sharp sting on her face from Lanick’s slap made her gasp. Winda put her hand on her cheek and fought back tears.
“Do not make such talk again,” Lanick hissed as she lowered her hand to her lap and glanced at the door,” he might hear.”
’He is hunting.” “Winda inched away from the door just in case. “He cannot hear.”
They both looked around when a gust of wind rocked the walls. One of the sacks burst open, the grain pouring out. Winda stood up, got a clay pot and held it underneath until the sack was empty. She set it on the ground and then sat back down by the fire.
“Your village does not exist anymore,” Lanick continued, “and just because you did not have a wedding ceremony like I did, does not make you less a wife. Now, you need to go out and get us some more water and firewood.”
Winda glowered at the other woman. “You send me out in this storm?”
Lanick’s sneer widened as she crossed her arms under her chest. “I am first wife. You are just a slave. You will obey my order.”
A hundred miles to the east in a town called York, a civilized land in Upper Canada, an oil lamp sat on a mahogany table between two friends in a two-story, white house. Three candles placed around the room created shadows on the walls. A settee stood along the opposite wall from the women. A small fire flickered in the fireplace in front of them to take the chill out of the air. Statuettes adorned the mantel. Small scatter rugs covered the highly-polished wood floor. Gertrude Paterson stretched out her legs to warm her toes. She glanced around the room with a satisfied smile at the paintings her husband, Anthony collected.
Gert sat back in her dark green wing-backed chair and admired the patchwork quilt she had just finished. It sported rich colours of blue, burgundy and grey. As far as she was concerned the effect was stunning. She set down her teacup and turned to her friend, Dorothy. “I think this is the best one I’ve done yet.”
Dorothy nodded, a sad expression in her eyes. “It’s too bad about your niece though. I can’t imagine what she’s going through right now.”
“Nor I. Marrying someone you’ve never even met before.” Gert sipped her tea and then sighed. “Anthony told me about the arrangement just a week ago, and it still makes my stomach turn.” She offered her friend a homemade blueberry tart. “So now I’ll give this quilt to Carrie instead of donating it to the church bazaar.”
Dorothy nodded as she took a bite. “These are scrumptious, a usual.” She chewed slowly then sipped on her tea. “That doesn’t allow much time to prepare for a wedding.” She leaned forward. “What does Mary say about it? Surely she could put a stop to it.”
“Well, you know Mary; she has as much backbone as a mouse. I think she’s afraid of Ivan.” Gert popped a tart into her mouth.
“He does order her around like she’s his servant, I’ve seen him.” Dorothy patted Gert’s arm. “I know you don’t like your brother-in-law.”
Gert nodded as she swallowed. “Don’t get me wrong, Dorothy, I love my sister. I’ve tried to talk sense into them both, but Ivan is quite adamant that this wedding will take place.” She picked up her cup and sat back in her overstuffed chair. “I don’t know why Mary would marry a man like that in the first place,” she said with an exaggerated sigh.
Dorothy put down her empty cup and stood. “I must be going dear; before it gets too dark.”
Gert walked her to the front door, handed Dorothy her coat and umbrella. “It’s still raining. Shall I get Anthony to escort you home?”
“Oh no, it’s not that far.” Dorothy opened the door. “Look, it’s slowing down.”
Gert watched her splash across the muddy street and down the other side. The door shut with a soft click. She picked up the lantern and blew out the candles one at a time before she started up the stairs. With her free hand, she pulled herself up by the rail and then stopped halfway to catch her breath. Gert knew she needed to lose some weight; she had gained it slowly throughout their marriage of twenty-eight years. Her husband had never said anything to her about if for which she was grateful. She did keep her dark brown hair up in a tight bun as was the fashion. Gert also made sure her dress apparel was up-to-date as well. Today, she wore a light blue dress with a lace collar and copper buttons. Even this dress was starting to get a bit too snug on her. On her feet were new black boots that hadn’t been broken in yet and gave her blisters. She rubbed her tired brown eyes when she rested again at the top of the stairs.
Halfway down the hall she looked at a picture of her and Anthony just after their wedding. In it, he looked up at her with such love in his eyes. She let out a chuckle. The photographer had been upset with him. “Everybody looks right at the camera,” Anthony had told him, “and nobody smiles.”
She headed toward the light that filtered under the door at the end of the hall. It creaked when she opened it. “That late already?” Anthony asked when he looked up from his ledger. He smiled and pushed his reading glasses up with an ink-stained finger.
“Dorothy just left.” She set the lantern down on a small table by the window and noticed that the wind had picked up again. The wooden chair creaked when she sat down on it. Gert faced her husband’s large oak desk. The usual clutter of papers, inkwells, pens and books were piled around a small clearing in front of Anthony. She watched him bend over, deep in concentration, and felt a sense of admiration and pride for his dedication to his work.
Anthony was shorter than most men. His light-coloured hair had started to turn grey at the temples. He squinted his hazel eyes at the book before him. Stubby fingers held the pen tight as he filled in columns of the ledger with numbers.
How he could work in such a mess, she didn’t know. She allowed her eyes to travel up above his head to a large painting on the wall. It was a ship almost hidden in the large swells of the sea; the sails tattered from the gale-force wind. It seemed cold and lonely to Gert, but it was Anthony’s favourite painting.
The small room was crowded with furniture. A wall-to-wall bookcase stood behind her, stacked full of papers and books. A filing system was against the wall beside her, across from the window and beside the door. Gert noticed that the room had started to get chilly. The logs in the fireplace had burned down to coals.
Anthony closed the big, black ledger with a thump and looked up at his wife. “I found out something that disturbs me very much.” He shook his head and frowned. “It doesn’t feel right at all.” He looked soberly at Gert, took off his glasses, and set them carefully on the desk. Gert sat up and gave him her full attention.
Anthony turned down his sleeves and undid the top two buttons on his shirt. “Ivan, it turns out, has deposited a large sum of money in my bank.”
Gert’s eyes widened in astonishment. “But, he doesn’t have any money.”
The next morning, Anthony watched through the front window as a small battalion dismounted in front of his bank. Some of the men went across the street into the hardware and grocery stores. A major he hadn’t seen before walked into the bank and tipped his wide-brimmed hat at the ladies. He then stood near the door, tall and straight. Sandy coloured hair that matched his trim mustache stuck out from under his hat. He tugged down on his blue uniform coat. A smile spread across his tanned face when the bank owner stepped up to him with an outstretched hand.
“Major,” Anthony shook the large calloused hand. “Come, let’s go into my office, shall we?” He led officer through the lobby and into a small room in the back. Anthony shut the door behind them and felt more nervous by the minute. He wondered if the major was there to investigate Ivan and the money that was now in the safe. Sweat beaded on his brow as he offered the man one of his finest cigars. His guest accepted one with a smile, took off his hat, and set it on a pile of papers. Anthony struck a wooden match to the side of his desk and held the flame out while the man puffed.
“Aren’t you having one?” the major asked as he pulled out a chair and flopped down.
“Oh, no.” Anthony slid into his chair behind the desk. “They make me sick, truth be told.” He looked at the officer straight in the eyes. If Ivan got this bank into trouble, he would personally put a bullet between his eyes, even though he had never handled a gun before.
“I’m Major Grant Sievers of the Twelfth Militia,” the man said as he pulled a piece of paper out of his coat pocket. “I have a draft here so we can pick up supplies for my men.”
Anthony let out his breath he didn’t know he had been holding. Relieved, he studied the note. The signature on the bottom of the page said it came from General Brooks, a man that Anthony had dealt with before. It wasn’t a large sum; his bank could handle it easily enough. “Yes, of course, Major.” He rose on wobbly legs and walked over to the safe. His hands trembled as he took out a small pile of bills and handed them over. “I didn’t know the militia was around these parts. Is there trouble?”
“Not here, yet anyway.” Grant took a puff.” We’re heading south. There’s been some raiding and killing.”
“I didn’t know we were having problems with the Indians again.” Anthony wrote out a bill for the loan, adding interest and a service charge, then folded it into three.
“We’re not, at least anything as serious as this. The Americans want to take over Upper Canada.” Grant took a long drag from the cigar. “It seems that when one war ends, another one starts up with someone else.”
Anthony sealed the letter with red sealing wax. He then imprinted the wax with the bank’s stamp then handed the letter to the major. “I agree, Major. And we think the Indians are the savages. Now we have to tame the Americans as well.” He pulled at his collar that threatened to suffocate him. “What about the Indians? Who do you think they will fight for?”
Grant inhaled more tobacco and blew the smoke over Anthony’s head. “I don’t know. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.” Anthony coughed and gave the major a wary look. Grant picked up his hat and stood.
Anthony walked the major to the door. “What about the British troops? Where are they?”
“As you know, the French will protect Lower Canada. The British troops are mostly guarding their forts. They’re building new ones at both ends of Lake Erie.” Grant put his hat back on. “Thank you, sir.” The major patted the pocket where the money was and left the bank.
Anthony watched Major Sievers hand over some of the money to his sergeant then hop on his horse and ride off with the cigar in his mouth. The sergeant ran back into the stores presumably to pay for the supplies. Anthony thought for sure Ivan was in trouble somehow. Blast him! He walked back into his office and shut the door.
However, it wasn’t just Ivan he was worried about. Anthony had become rich by swindling money out of people. He would wait until his client was near death, too sick to investigate him. He’d counsel them, as their financial adviser into giving large donations for charities that never saw it. And Gert thought he made his money by investing wisely.
After he let out a long breath of relief, he went over to the sideboard and poured himself a stiff drink. He then flopped back into his chair. “I need this,” he told the glass.
“I did not sleep well all night long,” Lanick complained as she sat up with her buffalo robe wrapped around her.” I am hungry and cold. That constant wind out there and the dripping in here is enough to make me scream.”
“No one will hear you, so why bother.” Winda put more logs on the fire. “I have already been out and got more wood to keep you warm. Is it not enough?”
“That is the last of our meat,” Lanick said while she pointed to two sacks near the wall. “Our husband is not a good provider.”
“He is stuck someplace. Would you travel in this weather?” Winda poured hot water into two cups. She handed one to Lanick, picked up her own cup, and sipped the weak elderberry tea. “I hope this is the last storm of the season. I could not see the lodge next to us through all that blowing rain and snow this morning.
“A person could get lost in this,” Lanick said as she watched Winda closely.
Winda ignored the undercurrent of that statement. Instead, she looked up at the walls that billowed in and out and at the water that dripped all around them. She could see the shadow of the big rotting tree on the wall bend and twist in the wind. Soon, she thought, it could break. She prayed to her spirits, as she had done all night that it would not land on their wigwam.
The spirits were not kind this time. Suddenly Winda heard a huge cracking sound. She jumped up, grabbed her coat, and headed toward the door. “Get the meat,” Lanick ordered as she picked up some of her belongings. “That old tree is coming down.” Winda tried to push Lanick out the door but the older woman blocked her. “Get the sacks, I’m hungry.”
Winda ran to the other side of the wigwam and reached down for the sacks. Another crack sounded from overhead. The branch ripped through the hide walls. Winda was knocked to the knees as it crashed down beside her with a loud thump. Snow and freezing rain rushed down on top of her. She grabbed her coat, but it was stuck under the branch so she left it as she climbed out with the sacks.
“Lanick!” Winda tried to see through the branches, but all she saw was that the fire had spread with the sudden gust. The wind blew it toward Lanick who lay on the ground under a large limb. “Lanick, watch out!”
The older woman did not move.
Winda climbed over a huge branch to go around the tree. She found a buffalo robe in the snow and wrapped it around her and still shivered as she tried to get to Lanick. A scream stuck in her throat when the wind spread the fire. Winda watched as the flames consumed the body.
Winda fought her way through the blizzard and dodged fires that had spread from campfires. She called or help, but there was no answer. Tears were wiped away as she called again. She didn’t see anyone as she made her way through the village. It was her time to escape, she decided. Once passed the lodges she pushed her way along the bottom of the valley, dodged trees as they swayed viciously back and forth and debris that flashed by in a blur. Behind a large rock, she ducked down and wrapped the buffalo robe around her to wait out the storm.
Five mornings after, sunlight in her eyes woke Winda. She blinked up at it and took out some dried meat form a sack and chewed on it slowly. When she finished, she wiped the grease from her hands on her deerskin dress. Shaky legs took her weight when she stood. A stitch ran up her back, but she could ignore it. She picked up her sacks and a spear she had found earlier.
Winda walked on melting snow, dead leaves, and pine needles from maple, pine, spruce, and many other trees that dripped on her as she walked under them. She stopped by a small stream, and then she sank to the ground and lifted hands full of cold water into her mouth. More was splashed onto her face and she felt alive and free for the first time in her life.
Winda checked behind her but didn’t see any signs that anyone was following her. For several miles, she picked her way along the fast stream. It would hide her footprints, just in case. On numb, soaked feet, she climbed onto the opposite bank. That evening two sticks stuck into the ground held her moccasins over a small fire to dry them out. A rice cake did for her evening meal.