`` So it wasn't the earthquake that made him return to his village '' ! !
`` No .
Now dammit , I don't want to go into any more explanations .
Here comes Jason .
Keep this to yourself '' .
Reverend Jason , looking worried , hurried toward us .
`` Anything wrong , cap'n ? ?
The men seem to think so '' .
`` Dirion found a large war party south of us .
They'll probably attack at dawn '' , Montero said .
He brushed past the clergyman and walked into the center of the camp .
Using his hands as a trumpet he shouted , `` Fort up ! !
Fort up ! !
There's a large war party on their way '' ! !
For a second , engages , cooks , voyageurs appeared struck dumb .
Then Little Billy began shouting orders to round up the ponies and fill the water buckets and for the cooks to hurry up with the meal .
They all flew into action .
`` That was a terrible thing to do '' , I said to Oso .
The Aricaras treated us like friends .
And here all the time you knew the Sioux would be using our rifles on them ! !
God , what a world you people live in '' .
Oso gave me an unruffled look .
`` Old Knife's got the largest war party ever seen on the river '' , he said calmly .
`` What would you have done in Montero's moccasins ? ?
Let Old Knife come up and kill you and your people , or would you steer him on someone else '' ? ?
He shook his head .
`` Mr. Manuel did that in the war .
That's why the British never got the tribes to fight for the King .
Mr. Manuel whispered in the ears of the Sioux that the Cheyennes were comin' to raid 'em for their horses .
Then he went on to the Cheyennes and told them that the Sioux was goin' to move up .
He did that with all the Nations .
Hell , they were fightin' each other so hard they had no time for anyone else .
The War Department wrote Mr. Manuel a letter and said he was a hero .
I saw that letter .
He carried it in a little wallet made of fish skin '' .
`` But that was war '' , I said .
`` There's no war on now '' .
`` You're wrong , Matt .
In this country there's a war on every time the grass turns green .
First it was the Nations against themselves , then it was them against the whites .
And it's goin' to go on like this year after year until the white people take over this land '' .
I remember being told it would happen so fast people would think it took place overnight .
`` That's why this company's important .
Once we get over the mountains others will come along .
That's why the Trust don't want us to make it .
That bastard Chambers ! !
-- Old Knife's not the only chief he'll get to do his dirty work ! !
Before we get through he'll have the Blackfeet hankerin' for our hair and our goods .
Well , talkin' ain't goin' to help -- let's fort up '' ! !
As I dug in behind one of the bales we were using as protection , I grudgingly found myself agreeing with Oso's logic , especially when I imagined what would have happened to Missy if Old Knife's large party of screeching warriors had overrun our company .
For , unlike the Sioux and the Crows , the Aricaras are not great horsemen , nor are they aggressive like the savage Blackfeet .
More of an agricultural nation , they have relied on their warriors only for defense and for survival in the endless wars of the plains .
Still , I was disgusted with myself for agreeing with Montero's methods .
Surprisingly , he had told the others what he had done .
In the brief moment I had to talk to them before I took my post on the ring of defenses , I indicated I was sickened by the methods men employed to live and trade on the river .
`` I think Montero did right '' , Amy said firmly .
`` Let the savages kill each other .
What do we care '' ? ?
Reverend Jason was understandably bitter .
`` It was a terrible thing to do .
Those little children .
But Oso replied calmly , `` Trouble ain't easy to dodge out in this country , rev'rend '' .
Gray Eyes attacked our camp just as the first pink threads stitched together the hills and the sky .
Our camp was in the center of a wide valley .
Montero had set up a strong position , using every bale and box we had in addition to barricades of logs and brush .
He had ordered the ponies brought inside the fortified circle and had assigned Pierre and a band of picked engages the job of trying to keep them steady under fire .
The pony herd was the one flaw in our defense ; ;
the Rees undoubtedly would try to cut down as many of the animals as possible .
Wildly bucking horses would make the position difficult to defend against charging warriors .
The cooks had prepared one of the best meals we'd had in a long time , and on Montero's orders had baked enough bread to last the day .
Buckets were filled , the herd fed and watered .
The worst part had been the waiting ; ;
although we didn't expect the attack before dawn , the long cloudy night , filled with the sounds of the industrious insects , seemed endless .
Coyotes and hunting wolves sounded like signaling Indian scouts , the whinny of a restless pony made one's skin crawl .
Oso slept unconcernedly , his rifle cradled in his arms ; ;
I didn't catch a wink .
Every time I closed my eyes , I saw Gray Eyes rushing at me with a knife .
It was a relief when they finally came .
They poured through the opening in the valley , then spread out in a long line to come at us , brandishing their lances and filling the morning with their spine-chilling scalp cry .
`` Oso '' , Montero called `` I'll get Gray Eyes '' .
`` That'll be a pleasure to see '' , the big black murmured as he stared down the barrel of his rifle .
`` Hold your fire '' , Montero was shouting .
`` Wait until my shot .
I'll shoot the first man who doesn't '' .
I could see them in my sights .
They were about a mile off ; ;
under me the ground quivered slightly .
At first they were only feathers and dark indistinguishable faces and bodies , hunched over their horses' heads .
Gradually they emerged as men .
Gray Eyes was in the lead .
His face was split by a vermilion streak , his eyes were pools of white ; ;
jagged red and black medicine symbols covered his chest .
He was naked except for a clout .
Next to him was a young boy I was sure had sat near me at one of the trading sessions .
His mouth was open , his neck corded with the strain of his screams .
I found his chest in my sights .
It had a red circle .
The circle came nearer and nearer .
My God , how long is he going to wait , I thought .
Montero's rifle cracked .
At first I thought he had missed .
Gray Eyes remained erect .
The feathered lance was still above his head .
As he started to slump over , another warrior swung him onto his horse .
I squeezed the trigger .
At the last second I dropped my sights from the bare chest and bright red circle to the chest of his pony .
I saw the pony fall like a stone and the young warrior flew over its head , bouncing like a rubber ball .
He started to run but Oso's shot caught him on the wing .
He jerked once in the grass and lay still .
`` If you're goin' to kill 'em -- ! !
Kill 'em '' ! !
Oso growled .
What else he said was lost in the rattle of gunfire on all sides .
The Aricaras broke under the devastating fire , wheeled and retreated .
`` Lead up ! !
Lead up ! !
They'll be back '' ! !
Montero was shouting .
Far up the valley I could see the Rees circling and reorganizing .
Out in front of our walls the grass was covered with dead and dying men , war shields , lances , blankets and wounded and dead horses .
The morning air was filled with the sweetish odor of new-spilled blood , the acrid stench of frightened horses , and the bitterness of burned powder .
A horse screamed as it twisted from side to side in a frenzy .
A rifle cracked ; ;
the square head fell over .
One of the warriors suddenly leaped to his feet and began running across the valley to the trees that lined the small creek .
His legs pumped furiously , his long black hair streamed out behind him .
There was a ragged volley .
He was dead before he hit the ground .
`` For Christ's sake , don't waste your powder on one of 'em '' ! !
Montero shouted furiously .
`` Wait for the charge ! !
The charge , I tell you '' ! !
The sharp cries at the end of the valley were faint .
They grew louder as the Indians charged again .
I could see their faces glistening with sweat and bear grease , their mouths open , shouting their spine-chilling cries .
`` Gray Eyes is back , , Montero said .
The war captain had been badly wounded and was fighting to hold his seat .
I could see the blood running down his chest .
He was riding between two warriors , who held him erect when he started to slump .
I forgot to aim .
In my sights I watched him looming bigger and bigger .
Montero's shot had caught him high in the chest ; ;
there was no doubt he was dying .
Again we waited for Montero .
This time he delayed so long that some of the engages shouted frantically , but they held their fire .
The horses were only several lengths away when he fired .
The bullet flung Gray Eyes from his horse .
Our rolling volley swept most of the other riders from their mounts .
But a few reached our wall .
I heard the whir of an ax and a Canadian's face burst apart in a bloody spray .
I saw Little Billy rise and fire almost point blank and an Indian's face became shattered flesh and bone .
A second leaped from his horse to the top of the bale , firing four arrows in such rapid succession it didn't seem possible they were in flight .
Men screamed .
Oso reached up , jerked the buck from the bale and snapped his neck .
Other Indians were running at the ponies , shrilling and waving blankets .
Reverend Jason got one , the Canadians the others .
I saw the clergyman kneel for a moment by the twitching body of the man he had shot , then run back to his position .
The ponies were almost uncontrollable .
The pall of dust they raised made it difficult to see when the Aricaras charged again .
This time more of them hurdled the barrier .
A small Indian dived at Montero , who caught him with a swift upward stroke of his rifle butt .
It sounded like a man kicking a melon .
Above me a dark rider was whipping his pony with a quirt in an attempt to hurdle the bales .
Although my shot killed his horse , he rolled off the bale on top of me .
I could smell woodsmoke , grease , and oil .
His eyes were dark , fluid , fearful , and he gave a sigh as my knife went in .
Coming over the wall he had seemed like a hideous devil .
Now under me I could see him for what he really was , a boy dressed up in streaks of paint .
The Aricaras made one last desperate charge .
It was pitiful to see the thin ranks of warriors , old and young , wheeling and twisting their ponies frantically from side to side only to be tumbled bleeding from their saddles by the relentless slam , slam of the cruelly efficient Hawkinses .
Others , badly wounded , gripped hands in manes , knees in bellies , held on as long as possible and then , weak from ghastly wounds , slipped sideways , slowly , almost thoughtfully , to be broken under the slashing hoofs .
Some gracefully soared from the backs of their wounded , screaming mounts to make one last defiant charge before the lead split their hearts or tore their guts .
None of them reached our walls again .
The few survivors grudgingly turned away .
In the distance we could hear the drums and the wail of the death song .