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From the bestselling co-author of the First North Americans series comes a spellbinding novel of the Huron Indians and the French missionaries who went among them. This Widowed Land is a love story and a portrait of the struggle between shaman and priest for the souls of a dying people. Historical Fiction
"Strong descriptions of the Huron way of life, Marc's ambivalence about his priestly vows and his love for Andiora...Recommended." -Library Journal
This Widowed Land
Our hope is in God and Our Lord Jesus Christ who shed His blood for the salvation of the Hurons as well as for the rest of the world. It is through His support, and not our own efforts, that we hope one day to see here a flourishing of Christianity ... . All we have to fear is our own sins and imperfections, and I more than all. Indeed, I judge myself most unworthy of this employment. Send to us those who are saintly ...
Very humble and obedient servant in Our Lord, JEAN DE BREBEUF, S.J.
The last crimson rays of sunset slanted through the Soleil's rigging and threw a bronze spiderweb across the weathered deck at Marc Dupre's feet. He studied the design as he walked toward the railing. His mind roiled with excitement, worry, and the bittersweet sense that he was saying farewell to home and country. He'd left his two charges, Father Luc Penchant and Brother Phillipe Raimont, to finish unpacking whilehe came up to watch the final preparations before they set sail. He wanted to remember each detail of his journey to the New World, to tuck these scenes into the corners of his soul, where he kept all precious memories.
High above him, the radiant light burned a golden halo around the furled sails and gleamed off the polished hardwood spars. A grand, three-masted sailing vessel, the Soleil rocked gently, creaking with the motion of the water. Sailors rushed by Marc, cursing, calling commands while they cast off the lines that tethered the Soleil to the water-worn quay of Dieppe. The musky sea breeze brought exotic aromas of saffron, cinnamon and cloves drifting from the white stone walls of the quayside warehouses.
Marc stopped for a moment. In the distance, the waning July sunlight shimmered on the green, rolling hills of France and flashed from the wings of a nightingale that dove over the city. His eyes tightened with longing. A tall man of twenty-six, he had blond hair and deep-set blue eyes that always seemed a little wistful. His straight nose and full lips were framed by a beard and mustache.
I'll never leave you ... . The words echoed around in his mind, sounding more forlorn than the day he'd spoken them. Images of Marie's face rose. Crystal clear. As though they had been carved into the bones of his soul. She smiled at him, her eyes twinkling. Marc bowed his head and absently listened to the lapping of the waves against the barnacled hull. He had never been more than a few miles from her grave. How would he feel when this ship sailed out into the vast ocean? This is something. I must do, Marie. Forgive me ... .
When he reached the railing, he braced his hands on the moist wood. Cabbage leaves, bottles, bits of moldy bread, and other refuse bobbed in the current below—denizens of harbors everywhere.
"Ho! Marleaux!" a man dressed in tattered brown livery shouted as he stamped down the deck. Greasy straggles of dark hair draped his bearded face. "Get thatrigging stowed or Mongrave'll be heaving you overboard!"
"Sacré, Jameson!" a lanky and sun-blackened sailor responded as he tackled a pile of cordage. "René said he'd be doing—"
"I'll not hear any excuses. Just do it!" Jameson pointed a stern finger and swaggered off, shouting at others.
Men hustled to obey, climbing up the shrouds to balance precariously on the yards, rushing to ready the sails. Voices rose and fell as rowboats moved into position to tow the Soleil out to sea.
The crew intrigued Marc. A curious blend of French, Dutch, Irish, and Englishmen, they mixed phrases from each language as though unaware that a difference existed. And they seemed to have developed an extensive profane vocabulary all their own. The Jesuit provincial, Etienne Binet, made a point of selecting men for the New World who had a talent for languages—Marc spoke four, including a few words of Huron—but certainly Binet had not expected this sort of training ground.
On shore, men watched as the Soleil was towed out of the inner basin of Dieppe, past the long jetties and breakwaters, beginning its two-month voyage. A stooped old woman who had been fishing in one of the shallow inlets waved. Marc hastily lifted a hand in return.
A man with a booming voice stood up in the crow's nest and sang a bawdy song that compared the swells of the ocean to a woman's breasts. Raucous laughter sounded. A little man standing atop the forecastle, which the sailors called the foc'sle, broke into a happy jig.
The rowboats hauled them out into the depths and cast loose. Sailors shouted crude farewells as the small craft edged out of the way and headed back to shore. Marc's gaze caressed the coastline. It rose like a blue-green fortress wall. Faint sounds carried from Dieppe: A horse whinnied, a lonesome bell tolled the hour, a blacksmith's hammer clanged.
As the sailors hoisted the sails, the Soleil took hold of the wind and proudly rode out on the retreating tide. Marc sank against the railing, unable to pull his eyes away from the land. He didn't know how long he stood there, lost in memories of a country he would never see again, but eventually France blurred and became a pale blue apparition that haunted the horizon. When home finally faded to nothingness, he awoke from his reverie to find that night had draped the sea. Constellations gleamed dimly in the indigo sky. The crew had lit and hung lanterns around the deck. Oh, Marie ...
A hollow thudding of boots approached from Marc's right. He turned. Against the golden background of swaying lanterns, a huge man stood. Marc guessed his age to be about forty. Black hair whipped around his shoulders to tangle in his bushy beard. He wore a plain white blouse, loosely laced at the throat, and black pants that were tucked into the tops of his knee-high boots. His bent nose appeared to have weathered one too many brawls.
"Good God Almighty," the man said in English, casually taking God's name in vain. "Ease me mind, will you? Tell me you're not Father Marc Dupre."
"Sorry." Marc straightened, shifting his mind from French to English. "I am."
"But you're so young! Too young to be leading a group of holier-than-thous into the wilderness of New France."
"Excuse me. Do I know you, sir?"
The man propped his hands on his hips and squinted one eye. "I'm Pierre Mongrave, owner and master of this vessel ... . Perhaps I should have said the empty-headed owner of this vessel. Only a man lacking wits would agree to transport Jesuits. Once you get to New France, you'll see what I'm speaking of. I've been trying to figure out what sort of shenanigans I'll be put to if Pryor, the commandant of Quebec, won't let you set foot in the New World."
"Why wouldn't he? We were authorized to come by the viceroy, by Monsieur Samuel de Champlain and the directors—"
"Aye, but Pryor'll be considering such facts trifling irritations when the subject is Catholics. He's a Huguenot, in case you don't know. From La Rochelle." Mongrave uttered the words like a challenge to a duel.
"Is he?" Marc held Mongrave's fierce gaze. "Then I can understand his hatred. I was at the siege of La Rochelle, Monsieur."
La Rochelle had been a great victory for political and Catholic officials. It had taken fourteen months for Richelieu, King Louis XIII's brilliant chief minister, to overwhelm the population of the Protestant stronghold. He had done it by constructing a great jetty to seal off La Rochelle's harbor from the sea. Hundreds of "heretics" had been trapped and slaughtered in the streets. Scenes of the battle struggled to rise up from the burial ground in Marc's soul. He forced them away.
Mongrave looked Marc over from head to toe as though reluctantly reassessing his original opinion. "Before or after you took these robes? Whose side were you fighting on?"
Mongrave lifted his brows. "Since you didn't wed yourself to the papist pigs, I take it that you've not always been a Catholic?"
"No. I'm a convert."
"Well, if La Rochelle could turn you Catholic, you sure were not much of a Protestant. I'd—"
"I assume you're a Calvinist, Monsieur, since you seem to share Commandant Pryor's sentiments about Catholicism," Marc said, wondering at the man's open hostility. When he'd been in Paris, he'd been briefed on the history of the Soleil New World Trading Company and Monsieur Mongrave—a colorful character, to say the least. The trader had been run out of half a dozen countries for ethical misconduct, delivering tainted goods,cheating clients, but he apparently kept quiet on all political and religious issues, and guaranteed the safety of those he chose to transport. In these dangerous times, such a guarantee was rare, and the reason he continued to have paying passengers aboard. "Monsieur, if you hate Catholics so much, why did you agree to take us to New France and then on to the Huron village where Father Brebeuf is preaching?"
Mongrave's white teeth glinted suddenly. "I'd be selling me own soul if the devil offered as pretty a sum as you Jesuits did. But let's get an understanding here at the start. I've business to tend in Three Rivers. I'll not be taking you the entire way. A friend of mine, Huron and a woman," he whispered insidiously, as if it should bother Marc, "will escort you. You'll be spending time with a tame family of Montagnais Indians. I'll be rejoining you a few days before you strike the crossroads that lead to Brebeuf's village."
The ocean had grown rougher. The Soleil soared up on dark, glassy crests before plunging down into foamy valleys. Marc clutched the railing and bent his knees. "That will be fine, Monsieur."
"Aye, of course it will, cause that's the way 'tis going to be."
Marc cocked his head, curious. "Monsieur, do you hate all priests, or just Jesuits?"
"At this particular moment?" Mongrave appeared to be pondering the question. "I'm of a mind to hate just the Jesuits. But if you'd asked me a few years ago, I'd have cited the Recollets. 'Tis not priests, so much, you understand. I hate any high-handed evangelist heading to the New World to spout Jesus-this and Jesus-that."
"We are warriors in our Lord's battle for the salvation of souls, Monsieur. The End of the World is rapidly approaching. The seventh chapter of the Book of Revelation says that in the last days, the lost tribes of Israel will reappear. When Christopher Columbus discovered the New World and found—"
"Oh, Lord." Mongrave massaged his forehead. "You're not thinking that the Indians of the New World are the lost tribes, are you? That's pure hogwash, Dupre. The Jews have a written language, the Indians don't. Circumcision is unknown in the New World. The Indians—"
"The Indians may have lost all memory of their Jewish origins, Monsieur, but that doesn't mean they aren't the lost tribes."
The finest scholars in Europe had proven that ten of the twelve tribes of Israel had not returned from their exile in Assyria. God had promised them much affliction as punishment for their sins, and it was widely held that IV Kings 17:6 meant that the tribes had been driven into Asia, and from there crossed a "bridge" that led into the New World. Catholicism was still largely divided over whether or not the Indians were in fact the lost tribes, but few doubted that if they were, and could be converted, it would bring about the End of the World.
Marc said, "Chapter sixteen of the Book of Marc directs us to 'go out all over the world and preach the gospel to all creation.' The Jews will be the last to be converted, Monsieur. But when that's accomplished, Judgment Day will come."
"Well, you'll be waiting a mighty long time, Dupre, because you won't convert the Indians. The Huron don't care in the slightest for your brand of salvation. They've got their own religion, which serves them plenty well. They hold themselves to be the children of a goddess named Aataentsic." Mongrave grinned. "I bet you'll be taking a shine to her. She's the spitting image of your Old Testament God—kills men and brings them disease."
Annoyed, Marc said, "No man can enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless he is cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, Mongrave. I can see that you're hell-bent, but please don't deny the savages their chance for salvation."
Mongrave's eyes widened in mock amazement. "Well,what have we here? You're a different sort, aren't you, Father? Blunt at least." The trader caressed his beard thoughtfully. Behind him, spray glimmered from the decks like a wintry sheet of ice. "Tell me something. How is it you've lasted so long in a wallow of men who wouldn't say boo to a rock?"
"I don't think you know Jesuits very well, Monsieur. My fellows and I are certainly much—"
"No, you are not alike, Dupre. And if you don't know it yet, I'm sorry for you. Getting back to the Huron. 'Tis a foul weight on them to be thinking of your notion of heaven. They dream of going to the Village of Souls, where there's good hunting, playing, and fornicating to a man's content."
"I studied the Huron at the College of Rouen, Monsieur. I know some of what they believe. Father Brebeuf's reports have taught us much about—"
"Brebeuf!" Mongrave uttered the name like a profanity. "God save us. Well, if you've taken to believing Jean's reports like the gospel itself, you're sure to be getting killed the first year. Which"—he nodded approvingly—"all considered, would be a fine thing."
"Do you know Father Brebeuf?"
"You don't like him?"
Mongrave lounged back against the railing, and black hair danced wildly around his face. "You did not hear me say I wasn't fond of the rogue. 'Tis just a fact that Brebeuf is a scourge in New France, and what he's doing to the Huron and Montagnais should be a hanging offense."
"And just what is he doing?"
"Christianizing them! And that's the same as killing their souls. But one of your ilk would not grasp what I'm saying."
Marc folded his arms abruptly. "No, I wouldn't. Father Brebeuf is the reason I'm on your ship, Monsieur.He called for help to save the souls in the New World, and since he is a very great and holy man—"
"Oh, is he now?" Mongrave chuckled. "Well, you're in for a good sight more than you know, Dupre. About Jean, I mean."
Marc shifted uncomfortably, offended, wondering just what that meant. The silence stretched. The wood beneath Marc's boots groaned and creaked. The shrouds twanged in the rising wind. The scents of wet hemp, tar and turpentine competed with the salty flavor that clung at the back of his throat.
Mongrave shook his head and sighed as he gazed up at the few stars that frosted the heavens. "The reason I came out here, Dupre, was not to talk theology, but to speak to you about one of your charges—the little fat one. He's been driving me to distraction."
Marc turned suddenly. "Brother Phillipe Raimont?"
"Aye, that's the one. Me crew wasted half the afternoon chasing him away from the galley. He's been robbing from the hardtack to feed the birds that scavenge 'round the ship. I watched him all day, giggling to himself like one of the mindless, tossing bits of bread into the air and watching the gulls dive for them."
"He's just a simple soul, Monsieur. He loves animals and everything and everyone. I'll talk to him. I'm sure he didn't mean to take the hardtack."
"I'd not argue about that, Dupre. Raimont doesn't seem to have enough of a mind to know what he's doing from one instant to the next. I'll never understand the way the Catholics think. Why would the Jesuit provincial be selecting a man such as him for a mission to the New World? Etienne Binet must know the horrors and privations of the wilderness. I'd be much surprised if Brebeuf hadn't been moaning on it for years."
A crescent moon had edged over the waves. It cast a gleaming silver shawl across the water. Marc felt anxious and uneasy over discussing Phillipe with a man likeMongrave. Phillipe was special. The records in Marc's baggage detailed the times that Phillipe had been graced with stigmata, and his hands and side still bore healing scars from a recent episode. How could anyone be so pure and sinless that God would grant him the wounds of Christ?
"Monsieur Mongrave, I assure you, Brother Raimont is suitable for ministering to the savages of the New World. Please, let me worry about my brothers. Is there anything else I can—"
"Let me be giving you a bit of advice, then." Mongrave leaned forward threateningly, and his black eyes glinted. "That arrogant fool, Penchant, is annoying enough, but me crew will be viewing Raimont as a target. They'll take out every frustration over the work or the weather, or any other trifle, on him. You'd be doing yourself a favor if you kept Raimont away from me men."
"Good. I'll be holding you to that." Mongrave turned and swaggered off down the moonlit deck. When he reached the mainmast, he cupped a hand to his mouth and yelled, "Ho! Georges! Are you sleeping up there?"
A distant voice responded from the crow's nest, "Aye, sure, and with the loveliest mermaid you've ever laid eyes on."
Mongrave laughed and trotted up the stairs that led to the cabins, his boots thudding audibly long after he'd vanished.
Marc walked along toward the taffrail, thinking. They had been on the ship for only one day and already problems had begun to mount: Mongrave hated Catholics; Phillipe was stealing hardtack; and when they reached the New World, Pryor might stop them from entering New France. He'd not expected something so bold from the Protestant officials. What could he say to persuade the commandant to allow three Catholics to enter? What if nothing he said persuaded the man? Would Pryor simplyorder them back to France? A knot of anxiety formed in Marc's belly. Father Brebeuf was expecting them. He needed them. They couldn't just turn around and go home.
Marc passed the mizzenmast, where a huddle of men stood around a swinging lamp. They talked about the joy of being at sea again, about wonders seen and dreamed. One old man wearing a tweed cap pulled tight over his ears sat with his back against a crate. He worked at splicing rope while he spoke of ghost ships that still sailed the seas engulfed in flames, their yards swarming with screaming crew who could never escape. He warned about the golden-skinned serpents that would rise out of stormy water and swallow a ship whole, or coil around the masts and drag the vessel to the bottom of the ocean to keep as a treasure trove.
Marc silently slipped by them and headed for the steps that led above-deck to the two levels of cabins. On top of the cabins sat the wheel, exposed to the night and weather. When Marc opened the door to the hall, light struck his eyes. A single lamp hung from the ceiling, casting a muddy yellow glow in the narrow corridor. Cabin doors lined both walls. He made his way toward the last door, listening to the yards groan their grievances at the yanking sails.
When he reached his cabin, he quietly lifted the latch and eased the door open to peer inside. The small room held three cots and a tiny writing table. Moonlight was streaming through the porthole. Marc started to step into the cabin but stopped, frowning, when he saw Luc Penchant. The tall, willowy man lay with his wool blanket clutched tightly around his throat, his fearful gaze riveted on Phillipe. The little Brother knelt by his own bed with his hands clasped in prayer. Phillipe's wide eyes stared unblinking at the dark ceiling while his lips moved in a barely audible song. It sounded familiar, like a child's lullaby Marc had heard as a boy.
"Luc? Is everything all right?" Marc whispered as he stepped inside and gently closed the door.
"No," Luc responded tersely. "Look at him. He's at it again. He's been singing to himself for over an hour."
"Everyone has his own way of praying."
"I've been a priest longer than you, Dupre, and I've never seen anyone pray like he does. It's not ... natural."
"God seems to understand him. That's all that matters, isn't it?"
Luc said something under his breath and tossed to his side, turning his back to Phillipe. Marc let out a sigh. He had been with Luc and Phillipe for two weeks now, ever since they had met in Paris, and he still hadn't found anything amicable about Luc. Time. You need more time to make these men your friends.
Marc took off his heavy boots and began undressing. He draped his robe carefully over the foot of the bed, then slipped his white nightgown on. He said a quick prayer, pulled his blankets down and stretched out on his cot. Moonlight sheathed the cabin in liquid silver. Marc absently watched the shadows of the waves play on the walls while he thought about France, always so green at this time of year. He could still hear the beautiful songs of the nightingales. Did the New World have nightingales? Probably not. No more nightingales. No more thatched roofs. No more glorious Masses in magnificent cathedrals.
"Father Marc?" a soft voice called.
He shifted to look across the room. "Yes, Phillipe?"
"Don't be worried. God told me you were worried. But everything is going to be fine. God says there will be hundreds of Indians to greet us when we get to Quebec, and Monsieur Pryor won't make us go home. Don't worry."
Marc's mouth went dry. He started to ask how Phillipe knew, but hesitated. "Thank you, Phillipe ... for telling me. Get some rest now. It's going to be a long voyage."
MIST ROSE FROM the shining surface of Lake Karegnondi and crept into the Huron village of Ihonatiria, where it twined through the central plaza and clung like a veil of silver moss to the fifteen bark longhouses. The houses ranged from twenty to one hundred feet in length and had high, rounded roofs, and narrow doors in the end walls. Children played outside, chasing each other or throwing sticks for their dogs. They barely looked up when Tehoren sprinted by, heading for the council house.
At the age of twenty-five winters, Tehoren was small and thin, with a pug nose. He wore his long black hair coiled at the base of his skull. Streaks of black and white paint covered his oval face: black for Aataentsic, the moon, and Mother of the People, and white for Iouskeha, the sun, and First Man. His brown tradecloth pants and shirt were decorated with bands of green and blue glass beads, a sign of the powerful shaman he had once been. People used to pay well for his abilities to cure illness and bring rain ... but that was before the coming of the sorcerer, Jean de Brebeuf. He's not a man. He's an evil spirit that fell from the Christians' heaven. He came to destroy the Huron.
The Black Robe's wicked powers had already begun to put out the eyes of Tehoren's people, so that they could no longer see the truth. Last winter, twenty-eight had been converted by Brebeuf's malevolent powers. The fools! How could they abandon the generations of their families who lived in the Village of Souls to go live with Frenchmen in heaven?
And now what was this summons all about? Why was Jatoya so frantic? Tehoren ducked beneath the leather door-hanging of the council house. Copper pots andwooden bowls hung on the walls over the benches that lined each side of the house. People sat on the benches during the day and slept on them at night. Blankets lay neatly rolled beneath the rough-hewn planks. Weapons stood everywhere: tomahawks, bows and arrows, knives and war dubs. Last week the Iroquois had attacked and burned two Huron villages. The Huron men had been killed outright; the women and children had been taken for slaves. No one fell asleep these days without one hand on his weapons.
A fire gleamed at the far end of the longhouse, throwing the wavering shadows of two seated council members across the ceiling like dancing ghosts. The dwarf shaman, Tonner, poked a stick into the fire. He wore his hair in short gray braids and had a blue-and-white trader blanket wrapped around his shoulders. Beside him, Andiora sat with her knees drawn up. She looked beautiful and worried. Black hair hung in a glossy wealth over her shoulders. Her heart-shaped face had been dyed orange by the light of the flames, but the tint didn't hide the pallor of her flesh. Was she still weak from her recent illness? He'd heard the old women whisper that Andiora had lost a great deal of blood when she'd lost her child.
"What's wrong?" Tehoren asked as he hurried toward them. "Jatoya wouldn't tell me. She said only that I should come quickly." He walked to the left around the circle, as was proper, and sat down beside Tonner.
Sparks swirled toward the smoke hole in the roof as the dwarf tossed his stick into the fire. His malformed arms looked like twisted tree limbs in the flickering light. He said, "Andiora's Spirit Helper, Cougar, brought her a Dream."
Andiora let out a long breath and looked up at Tehoren through worried eyes. "A sickness is coming, Tehoren. It will begin among the Montagnais and Neutral, then run through all of the Huron villages. I saw people dying, spitting up blood. Not even the Nipissingor Wenroronon could get away from the sickness. It left us all so weak that we could not fight when the Iroquois attacked."
"The Iroquois are coming ... here? To Ihonatiria?" Tehoren clenched a fist. "When?"
"Cougar didn't tell me, but it was winter. Snow was on the trees."
Tonner pulled his blue-and-white blanket more tightly around his hunched shoulders and asked, "How did the Dream end?"
"A face and two upraised hands drifted through the forest." Andiora lifted her arms into the smoky air. "The fingers were white, very white." She extended her own fingers and put down the last two so that they almost touched her palm, but left her thumb and first two fingers extended. "He held them like this."
"Who did the face belong to? Did you know him?" Tehoren asked.
"No. He had golden hair. That's all I saw before Cougar growled and crept away into the shadows, taking the Dream with him."
"So," Tonner said. He sat still for a long time, staring at the flames, then dropped his hands to the beaded medicine bag tied around his waist. It contained the precious items—odd stones and dried flowers, strange seashells from the Village of Souls—given to him by the Spirits that wandered the forests. His mouth pressed into a tight brown line. "More sorcery," he whispered. "Are the Black Robes to blame?"
"We have no blond Black Robes in Huron territory," Tehoren pointed out.
"No," Andiora agreed. "But I'm leaving in a week's time for Quebec to bring three new priests to join Brebeuf. I promised Pierre I would go."
At the mention of Mongrave's name, Andiora's hands shook. She lowered them to her lap and tucked them into the folds of her blue dress to hide them. Tehoren looked away. Had the big trader even known thatAndiora had been filled with his child when he'd left for France? Mongrave wouldn't have cared. The knowledge angered Tehoren. How could a man be so indifferent to the woman who loved him?
Tonner got to his feet and grimly looked down at Andiora. "Maybe you shouldn't go to Quebec. I think I'll speak to Taretande and the other leaders, call a village meeting. That way we can all discuss it and decide what to do." He hobbled toward the doorway. The flickering firelight wavered over his twisted body as he ducked outside into the fog.
A brief square of bright light flashed through the council house, and Tehoren caught the look of anguish on Andiora's face. She said, "What will I do, Tehoren, if I go to Quebec and find a blond Black Robe waiting for me?"
Tehoren pulled his iron knife from its sheath on his belt and handed it across the fire to her. The blade glinted as though molten. "Here. Keep it. You must kill him quickly. Before it's too late."
Hesitantly, she took the knife. "And if Taretande won't let me go to Quebec? What then?"
"You must go," Tehoren said. "Only you will know the blond's face. If you can kill him before he gets to our villages, perhaps we can stop the sickness. I will speak for you at the meeting."
Copyright © 1993 by Kathleen O'Neal Gear.