The Battle for Newfoundland
The smash 1632 sequel to the Danish Scheme!
War clouds gather as the French and Danes struggle for control of the north in the New World. Move and counter-move play out as Richelieu launches a French expedition to sweep the Danes from their new settlements. It’s the Love Boat versus the French Navy as King Christian’s hare-brained contraption, the first modern submarine, tries to single-handedly hold off the French from conquering Newfoundland.
Meanwhile, the new Danish settlements around Hudson’s Bay face the grim realities of starvation in the frigid northern winter.
Captain Foxe faces difficult choices in THE BATTLE FOR NEWFOUNDLAND.
March 1634, Paris
The early spring showers left a tattered, evening fog over the streets of Paris. A lone pedestrian looked back, over his shoulder. Captain Rene Roussard breathed a sigh of relief. The last barge he’d ridden, from Giverny, had been refused entrance to the city due to past indiscretions by her captain. The city guards had been ecstatic as they escorted the barge captain off in chains. The passengers had been left, unmolested, to complete their journeys. As a result, Rene had been left to his own resources to finish the last two miles of his journey. The shadowy figures that had been following him, since the city gate, had finally disappeared at the last intersection. He pulled a worn, knit, stocking cap from his head and mopped the salt soaked rain from his eyes in relief. Either they had just coincidentally been traveling the same route he was taking, or they had finally decided he was simply not worth the effort of robbing.
Now he could concentrate on the real problem that had brought him to Paris. He had to report to Cardinal Richelieu the calamity that had befallen the mission he’d been given personally by the cardinal. It had been a fast return voyage from New France, after he’d been boarded by the Dutch privateer in the Cabot Strait. With the forged papers he carried, he had managed to convince the Dutch that his was a Dutch ship. Ever since he’d made port at Le Havre he’d been in mortal fear of this impending meeting.
His ship was safe, but the other ship he’d sailed with from Quebec had been taken. Some would view his release as a failure, and that was the nub of the problem. People who failed the cardinal sometimes wound up dead. Simply sailing away had been considered. However, those who failed to report at all could depend on reaching that fate when the cardinal’s men caught up with them. He shook his head. The gold had seemed so good at the time!
He continued walking as he mulled over his possible fate and suddenly realized he’d arrived at his destination. The doorway was barely visible in the reflected candle light from the windows at the front of the structure. The light notes of a sarabande escaped from an open second floor window. Two rats stood near the door, watching him and guarding their piles of trash, challenge reflected in their red eyes. They stood their ground, snarling, as he stepped up to the door. They’re braver than I feel.
He knocked on the kitchen door and a small viewport opened. The guard growled at him, demanding what his business was at this hour. “I’m here to give a message to His Eminence. Tell him it’s a brevet message.”
The cardinal’s guard stared at him in doubt, but it was one of the code words on the list. He decided that the visitor probably was legitimate. There was a load snick as a bolt was thrown back and the door opened.
“Follow me,” was all the guard said. The aura of menace precluded any thought of refusal. Although the guard’s hands were empty, Rene could see that the sword was free in its scabbard. As they walked through the kitchen, Rene’s stomach rumbled at the aroma of roast duck and fresh breads. It was well past his usual dinner hour. Even before he had entered the gates of Paris, he’d decided that promptness in reporting to the cardinal was preferable to a last supper. His stomach wasn’t as sure.
After only a few strides, they reached a small room at the head of a long corridor awash in candle light. The quantity of candles being burned could have fed a sailor’s family for a month. The guard paid the light no attention and simply opened a door and motioned Rene in. “Wait here. I’ll see if his Eminence knows you and wants to see you. He has guests here tonight.” The door shut and the sound of a key turning in the lock was loud in the silence. Rene wasn’t surprised. The cardinal had many enemies that wanted him dead and a password could be obtained in many ways.
The light from the enormous ballroom chandeliers lit up the street in front of the Palais-Cardinal. This was the first party hosted in the new residence Cardinal Richelieu was building in Paris. Based on the boisterous crowd in attendance, it promised to be the site of many future galas. The residence wing was still under construction, but the main ballroom, kitchen and meeting rooms were complete enough to host a royal ball. No expense had been spared to decorate the new Palais. Tapestries adorning the walls were reflected in the mirrors, which also reflected light for the rooms. Inside, the party celebrating the last day before the start of Lent included all of the court nobility who were in town, since Queen Anne had chosen to attend. The king was not present. He had decided to remain in the country until after the Easter season. Court gossip hinted at a scandal that didn’t involve the queen.
The smell of fresh paint and oils mixed with the scent of beeswax and perfumes from the gentlemen and ladies in attendance. As the musicians finished a sarabande, Etienne Servien made his way through the dancers toward the group of men gathered in the far corner of the room in attendance on the queen. Cardinal Richelieu stood out as the taller of two somber, scarlet figures in a crowd of brightly clad court sycophants. Servien tried to pass unnoticed through the crowd, but failed. The cardinal’s attention was drawn toward the swirl in the crowd as Servien passed. He noticed that Servien was making a straight line toward him. Not a good omen. He usually only does that in an emergency.
“Your Eminence?” Servien bowed to the cardinal as he arrived. “There is a matter in the kitchens that requires your attention before the banquet is served.”
Cardinal Richelieu hesitated just a brief second, as if from irritation at the interruption for so trivial a matter. “Oh, very well!” he said in a huff. Servien nodded slightly. To those nearby, it appeared to simply be a fit of pique on the part of Richelieu toward a servant, but long years together told Richelieu what he needed to know. So something untoward has come up. And it’s important enough that he doesn’t want anyone here to find out.
Once outside the ballroom and alone in the corridor, Richelieu confronted Servien. “Etienne, I do hope this is something more than just a problem with the meal. Her Majesty expects that I will pay close attendance on her. With Louis out of the city, she has to be careful of who she is seen with.”
“Your Eminence, there is not a problem with the meal. A Compagnie problem has come up and I didn’t want your guests to know. A messenger has arrived and is waiting for you in the guard’s room off the kitchen. He had the proper code word.” Without waiting for an answer, Servien bowed and gestured toward the kitchen area. The cardinal preceded him toward the kitchens. Servien’s silence portended ominous news if even a chance passerby was too dangerous to overhear a remark.
A few moments’ walk brought the two to the guard room. The guard preceded Servien and the cardinal into the room and waited at attention next to the visitor. He was a short, fat man. The cut of his clothes suggested a merchant ship captain or first mate. Servien introduced the messenger. “Your Eminence, this is Captain Rene Roussard, out of Le Havre. He has news of the Compagnie fur shipment.”
As Servien mentioned the fur shipment, the temperature in the room seemed to drop. The cardinal waved, motioning the guard to leave. When the guard started to protest, Richelieu said, “It’s all right; he’s known to me.” After the guard left, Richelieu asked, “And what is the news, Rene?”
Servien stared at the visitor. Evidently the cardinal was very familiar with him. He always had a guard present with strangers. Since he knew just about everyone that the cardinal employed on the king’s business, this must be one of the cardinal’s special Compagnie contacts.
Captain Roussard removed his stocking cap and bowed to the cardinal. “As His Eminence knows, I sail between Le Havre and New France, trading timber and sundries with the colonists.” He looked at Servien, as if to apologize for not telling Servien more when they spoke earlier. “When I sailed this last time from New France, I sailed in company with the Compagnie’s fur ship, as you had directed. Three days out from port, we were attacked by two Dutch fregate that had been laying hove to, seemingly waiting for us. When we split up, the Dutch gave chase to both ships. My ship was captured immediately, but the Dutch papers you had supplied, added to my passable Dutch, saw to our release. They seemed to want to avoid any possible entanglement with their own countrymen. The Compagnie ship’s captain made a good run, but I fear he set too much canvas to try and out run the Dutchman, or he may have been hit by the Dutchman’s bow chaser. In either case, he lost his foremast and was captured. I didn’t know what to do. We were unarmed, so as soon as I was released, I sailed on. When we reached Le Havre I came straight here, without telling a soul what had happened.”
Captain Roussard appeared much calmer than most agents reporting bad news to the cardinal. Servien pondered what the captain had left unsaid. Why had the cardinal given a timber ship false papers? Something didn’t add up. If the fur shipment had been intercepted, the cardinal should be livid.
Richelieu’s calmly asked the captain, “Were you able to do the transfer as I had directed?”
The man nodded vigorously. “Oui, the first night from Quebec, we anchored and transferred most of the cargo, as your orders directed. Captain Gilbert was angry, thinking you didn’t trust him, but I reassured him that was not the case. As events turned out, your fears were well placed. The Dutch were definitely expecting us.”
Richelieu broke into a wry smile. The man had done well to bring the news. The Compagnie was in dire financial straits and had been depending on the funds to be realized from the sale of the furs to stave off bankruptcy. But three-fourths of a loaf was better than nothing. His finances and political position would suffer in the short term, once news of the capture became common knowledge. Knowing that most of the shipment had made it through safely, before others did, might help him recoup his losses and mitigate the political aspects.
He turned back to Servien, who had waited quietly by the door to make sure they weren’t interrupted. “See that this man is rewarded.” Roussard’s stomach chose that moment to rumble loud enough for all to hear. “And see that he is fed before he goes. He has done me a great service.”
Richelieu continued, “Just remember the second half of my instructions. Make sure no one goes ashore with this information for at least a week, and hold off unloading the special cargo until then, too. I’ll know who’ll have spread the word if this gets out before then.” Rene’s smile disappeared quickly as he nodded acknowledgement.
“I’ll see to it at once, Your Eminence.” Servien started to show Roussard out.
As they reached the door, Roussard turned to add, “I almost forgot the most important point, Your Eminence. When the Dutch ships left with their prize, they headed north, toward Newfoundland.”
“You’re positive of this?”
“We kept watch until we lost sight of their sails.” Rene then preceded Servien out. They left the cardinal to gather his thoughts before returning to his guests. Servien handed Rene a weighted bag that clinked delightfully and ordered the guard to see he was fed well. As Servien stepped back into the guardroom to see to his master’s needs, the cardinal said quietly, in a voice still as death. “After the party, Servien, come to my quarters. We will see what can be done with this opportunity! The time has come to strike back at that Danish drunk.”
It was three hours past midnight before the final reveler left the Palais. Servien had waited in the study, dozing, until the cardinal could safely break away. When the cardinal entered, foot sore and weary, Servien almost blurted out his question, “Your Eminence, please don’t think me presumptuous, but how did you know that the shipment might be intercepted? I’ve seen nothing in your normal correspondence that even hinted at such a possibility.”
Richelieu stroked his beard, debating the wisdom of revealing a source. “I had heard rumors that Dutch ships might be raiding the fishing fleets off the Banks. Given the richness of the prize, I took precautions to insure that at least part of the fur shipment would arrive. What concerns me more is the direction the raiders retired. It seems there is much more going on in the North Atlantic than we’ve been told. Perhaps our agents in Copenhagen were not as successful as we’d been led to believe in stopping the Danes from sailing. I want an armed trading ship or two dispatched to scout out the area and report back. If Rene is willing, send him as one of them. We may need to shore up our defenses in New France. Begin locating possible assets that could follow up, once we receive the report. Now, go get some rest! This can wait until the morning.”
July 1634, lower James Bay
Life had settled into the routine of summer for the Cree tribes around James Bay. Hunting and fishing, to gather and preserve food for the winter, occupied everyone’s time from March through October. The long summer days, though, did occasionally leave some time for other activities. Today was a special day for one of the villages on the western shore. There was a coming of age event. Two fishermen paddled a birch bark canoe slowly downstream, still only a short distance from their village. The fishing spot they were headed to was at the mouth of the Cheepash River, but on the opposite shore from the village. The older man in the back used the short stroke of one used to covering long distances and old enough to know not to tire himself out. The young boy in front, already showing signs of tiring, paused to try to see where they were. From the canoe, neither shore of the river was visible. The early morning fog muffled sound and limited sight to mere feet. The summer sun was trying to break through, but the few clear patches quickly filled back in. The boy couldn’t hold back his enthusiasm when a fish nearly leaped into the boat, trying to catch a bug hovering above the water. He turned and asked, “Are we close, Grandfather?”
Chief Luther Longspear paused in his paddling and tried to act like he wasn’t sure. This was supposed to be Adam’s initiation into spear fishing, and the boy still needed to learn patience. As Adam continued to squirm and started to reach for the iron fishing spear lying in the boat’s bottom, Luther turned the question around. “What do you think? I’ve told you where we’re going, and I’ve taught you how to find your way. We’re not that far from the village. You tell me where we are, Adam.”
The boy was so like his father at this age. Always eager for new adventure, but too excited to think. Too bad his father had died before he could complete Adam’s training. James had shown a skill in raising Adam alone. Now that he and his wife were dead, and, with his brother missing on a long journey, it fell to the grandparents to raise Adam.
Realizing this was a test, Adam paused to take a deep breath and consider his surroundings. His father had always emphasized, ‘Notice the small things and then think!’ He noticed that the canoe was rocking on small waves. He reached over the side, dipped his hand in the water and tasted it. Brackish. Off to the north, the sound of nesting ducks was barely audible through the fog. “I think the island is somewhere over in that direction,” he said, pointing to the north. “Since you’ve never shown me where your secret fishing spot is, I’m not sure just how far over there.”
His grandfather suppressed a smile. The answer showed Adam had thought the question through. Behind the boy, the fog bank broke momentarily and Luther spotted their destination. He paused, trying to look thoughtful. He too tasted the water, just like his grandson, to reinforce the proper habit, and then cupped his ear. After a moment, he held a moistened finger in the air to test the air flow and then pointed the canoe toward the tree stump he’d seen earlier. “Should be just ahead. Prepare to tie us up.” After three strong strokes, the dead stump broke through the mist.
Adam looked at his grandfather in awe. The stories they tell are true! Grandfather always knows where he’s at. Quickly, Adam grabbed the rawhide rope at the front and tied the canoe to the stump. The current slowly pulled the canoe away from shore until the rope was taut. They were about ten feet from the stump. The river bottom was just visible about four feet down, through the bottom growth, and small ciscoes and blue gill minnows seemed to be everywhere. Luther took the rock he used to anchor the canoe and slowly lowered it to the bottom. “We’ll stay here until the sun reaches over head. This way the fish won’t see your shadow.” He pointed to the shadows that reached toward the shore. The sun had finally broken through the fog and was quickly burning it off.
Adam carefully picked up the spear and hefted it to gauge the canoe’s reaction to the movement. He carefully wrapped the spear’s retrieval strap around his wrist. He really didn’t want to have to dive after it in the cold waters. He knelt on the furs his grandmother had sent along to ease the strain of the wait. Luther leaned back on his furs in the bow of the canoe and studied Adam’s technique. Adam settled back on his haunches, carefully keeping his shadow away from his search area. It was only a few minutes before the larger fish returned to hunt the school of minnows darting back and forth among the rocks and plants. A trio of walleyes caught Adam’s eye and he watched them as they stalked the minnows. They suddenly flashed into the school, intent on their prey. In his excitement, Adam cast the spear, neatly spearing the tail of a small ciscoe trapped in the middle of the trio of walleyes. As Adam retrieved the spear, Luther shook his head in amazement. “I don’t think that will be much of a meal. Next time, focus on one fish. You focused on the group and missed all of them.” Adam was downcast at the result. The small fish used the pause to wiggle off the spear and splashed back into the water. As it tried to swim away, one of the walleyes darted back and swallowed it whole. Adam settled back down to resume his hunt.
The walleye’s success encouraged its comrades to return. This time, Adam tracked the movements of a single target, and when the spear splashed this time, he was rewarded with a walleye that was nearly as long as his arm. He carefully lifted the fish out of the water and set the spear and fish down in the canoe. Removing a stone knife from a sheath at his waist, Adam used it to free the fish from the spear tines and placed it in a wicker basket. After tying the basket to a lead, he set it over the side to keep the fish fresh in the cool water. Luther watched, with frequent nods of approval, as Adam finished his tasks. The boy’s actions had been swift and precise. Luther settled back on the furs to enjoy the warm sunlight. The slow rocking from the waves promised a quiet, relaxing day of fishing. “Wait a few minutes for the fish to calm down and let the big ones return. Then try again.” Adam nodded quietly and resumed his watch.
Out on the bay, the fog banks were slowly dissipating in the east. Adam spied two walleye circling back into shore, seemingly unconcerned as to the fate of the third in their group. Hunger, and a ready supply of prey, drove out all thoughts of danger. Luck, though, was on their side. The school of minnows stayed just far enough away from the canoe that Adam didn’t want to chance a throw. Finally, one of the walleyes darted in for a strike and the school broke back toward the shore. The other walleye tried to cut them off but came into range. Adam cast the spear and was rewarded with his second catch of the day. As he held it up, he cried out, shaking the spear, “Look grandfather!”
Luther had been dozing and was startled by the cry. “Be careful! You’ll lose the fish shaking it that way.”
Adam dropped the spear into the canoe. “No grandfather, look!” He pointed with his arm, past Luther’s right side. “There’s something out on the bay.”
Luther turned and nearly upset the canoe. Far out on the bay, just emerging from a dying fogbank, were what looked like a grove of grey trees. Adam had stood up, trying to get a little better view. Luther quickly pulled him back down and hissed, “Be careful! We have no idea who they are or what they intend for us. Pull us back to the stump. I need you to carry a message to the village to warn them we have visitors.”
Adam started hauling in the rawhide rope. “Who, or what, are they, grandfather? Have you seen them before?”
Luther tried to get a better sight, but the fog still obscured the visitors. “I saw something like them, a few years ago. They were friendly, but warned us that there were others like them that weren’t to be trusted. I have no idea which ones these might be. I want you to run to the village and warn them to prepare to hide in the woods, if the visitors go upriver. I’ll paddle out and meet them alone. Better that one old man should sacrifice himself than the whole village be destroyed if they are enemies.”
Adam wanted to protest that he should stay and help, but Luther’s glare left the protest unspoken. The canoe bumped up against the stump and Adam slipped over the side into the cool, knee deep water. The bottom was sandy and he was able to quickly reach the shore without losing his moccasins. He started to turn once more to protest, but Luther pointed at him with his paddle. “Get to the village as quickly as possible, but don’t take foolish risks. Your grandmother should be on this side of the river, helping gather berries. Tell her what you’ve seen and that I said to gather up all those that are nearby. Take as much food and tools as they can and go to the forest, south of the village. They should also try to hide any canoes, if there’s time, so that the village isn’t easily spotted from the river. If these men are friendly, I’ll be back before sundown. If I’m not, you must not try to rescue me. Now go!” Luther grabbed the rope and loosened it from the stump. He pushed off with his paddle and turned toward the open water. Without a backward glance he started paddling toward the visitors.
With his grandfather’s injunction for haste still ringing in his ears, Adam broke into an easy lope along the riverbank. Thankfully, the shoreline on this side of the river was mostly sand, and he could follow it until just below the village. He’d have to head inland when he reached the stream, and pick his way across on the tangle of trees that had washed upstream in the spring flood. The slight bend in the river at the stream had allowed the current to deposit debris there, during the previous spring flood, which formed a precarious crossing. As he jogged along, he worried about his grandfather. If these were the same people that had visited before, he should have recognized them. The tales he had heard mentioned only one of the large canoes. Those visitors had spent the winter with his village and had brought them many gifts. His grandfather’s spear was a token of their friendship. One of the visitors had told his family about their gods. Grandfather had been impressed by the stories, and had been baptized and changed his name. He’d also had his sons and grandson baptized, and had given them their new, Christian, names. He was just barely able to recall the face and kindly voice of the white man who had baptized him, but that was all he could recall about the visitors.
His day dreaming almost landed him in the trouble his grandfather had warned him to avoid. He managed to stop just short of the embankment that dropped precipitously down to the stream. Only the shadow of the old tree that anchored the soil and kept the stream from cutting down the bank saved him from a cold, wet swim. Adam paused to catch his breath. The run had gone faster than he’d expected. The excitement had added speed to his pace, but was beginning to tire him out. He leaned against the tree trunk to catch his breath. Grandfather trusted me to be smart! I have to make sure I get there in time. He pushed off and headed upstream to the logjam, where he could cross.
As he approached the tangle of debris in the stream, he surveyed the site carefully. At first, nothing appeared to have changed since he had crossed it the previous week. Then a movement caught his eye. On the far bank, the large birch tree that anchored the jam on that side had finally been undercut by the stream. It was still holding the neighboring branches and logs down with the weight of the remaining dirt at its roots. But if you watched closely, small quivers ran through the branches when the current hit the roots just right. He could go a little further upstream, but he would have to swim and the water was still really cold. He eyed the jam again and decided. It should still hold him. Adam carefully slid down the bank to the rocks on his side of the stream. An old, weathered tree trunk was firmly buried in the silt, offering a solid footing to reach the nearest tangle of branches. This wasn’t like the spring, when they tried to see who could be the fastest across. He was heavier now and the jam was starting to untangle.
As if on cue, a small tree just ahead came loose and was swept away by the current. The branch he was balanced on started to shift. A loud snap underfoot signaled that the time for caution was past. He leaped to catch the next snag just as the center of the debris broke loose. He took three quick steps toward the birch roots, when his foot slipped and was trapped in between a crotch in a pine limb and a branch underneath. Reaching down to try to free his foot, he couldn’t get a strong enough grip on the lower branch. The bark had rotted away in the water and left a slimy coating on the wood. More ominous rumbling warned that the jam was ready to break free. If he couldn’t free his foot quickly, he could be swept under as the jam broke. He kept trying to pull the foot free, but it just pulled the lower branch tighter to the crotch he had slipped through. Another small tree broke free as he struggled. As it was pulled from the tangle, a weathered branch fell from the pile overhead and almost brained him.
As he went to push it away, Adam realized he had just been given the means to his escape. He took the branch and shoved it between the restraining branches. With his other foot, he stomped on the lever and forced the lower branch just far enough down to release his foot. He twisted quickly and reached the birch roots and safety. As he pulled himself up the tree to shore a loud crash announced the final breakup of the logjam. Adam flopped on the ground and took a deep breath in relief at his narrow escape. The birch tree remained; but even as he watched, the stream was already eating away at the remaining earth. He levered himself up and resumed his jog toward the berry grounds.
Captain Luke Foxe surveyed the approaching shore. The copies of up-time maps he had, showed that the river ahead should be the Cheepash River, where one of the original Hudson Bay Company forts had been located. It was also the site where Captain James had over wintered with the local tribe on his last voyage. Hopefully, the tribal leaders would welcome his group as much as they had Captain James. Otherwise, it was going to be a really long trip back to Newfoundland. A shout from the crow’s nest drew his attention to an approaching canoe.
Luther slowly approached the lead ship. There was a flurry of activity at the bow of the ship. As he paused to consider which side to approach, the large hook on the far side fell noisily into the water. A man, who was hanging over the front of the boat, was busily coiling up a rope with a weight on it. The nearer side seemed to offer the safest approach. Nearby splashes signaled that the other ships had dropped their hooks too. From his past visits to his friend’s ship before he left, Luther recognized the battens on the side of the boat where he could tie off his canoe and board. Strange, white faces of men with beards and women with head coverings lined the side of the ship as he paddled up to the battens. Now would be the best time if they simply wanted to kill Luther. A large rock over the side into the canoe and he would freeze in the water before he could reach the shore.
A young, red headed man leaned out of an opening above the battens and called out, in passable Cree, that he was welcome to come aboard. Luther fumbled for a moment, trying to secure the hide line. As he climbed very slowly up the side, another voice in Cree called out, “Surely you haven’t aged so much that we have to send a rope chair to help you up, father!’ Luther missed the slime covered batten with his foot and almost fell into the water. A desperate grasp at the edge of the entry port above him saved him and the redhead helped pull him up the last steps. The smile on the young man’s face and evident concern helped reassure Luther that he probably was among friends. Looking around frantically, Luther tried to locate the source of the earlier comment that almost caused his fall. A large crowd had gathered to catch a glimpse of the visitor. Pushing his way through was an older, white man who had the look of a leader. He was dressed in a linen coat and breeches, a broad brimmed hat clutched at his side. The young man who had saved him was still at his elbow and said in halting Cree, “Chief Longbow, this is our leader, Captain Foxe. We welcome you on board the København.”
The older man extended a hand in friendship. He said something quickly to the younger man that Luther couldn’t quite make out completely. It was a name and then something about meeting. One thing was certain, though. They spoke English, just like his friend Captain James, so they were probably friendly. Or at least they weren’t the Spanish or French he’d been warned about. The younger man, whose name sounded like Svend, nodded and motioned for the crowd to clear back. He started to try and stammer something out in Cree, but Luther said, “I do speak English. Captain James taught me when he stayed with us.”
Svend looked relieved. “That’s good. I had just about exhausted my Cree. I think there’s someone here who’s anxious to see you.” As the crowd finally parted, a young Inuit woman slowly helped a young Cree male across the deck. He was wrapped in bandages around his back and shoulder, and his steps were very wobbly.
“Father, your son has returned, as Captain James promised.” Joseph Longspear smiled at his father’s astonishment.
Luther was so stunned he couldn’t move. A tear slowly trickled down his cheek. As it hit the deck, the reverie broke and Luther rushed over to embrace his son. The young woman intercepted him before he could crush his son in a welcoming embrace. “Please be careful. You’ll undo all the healing in one hug.”
Luther finally looked and the extent of his son’s injuries stopped him dead in his tracks. “Joseph, what happened to you?”
Joseph finished hobbling up and very carefully hugged his father. “It’s a long story, Father. Can I find a comfortable place to sit before I start?” Luther nodded, still dumbfounded at his son’s unexpected return. The young Inuit woman went to find some seats.
The first mate, John Barrow, and two sailors, soon produced, like magicians, three legged stools for the group. John motioned for the group to sit. “Here you go. It’s way too nice of a day to spend down below.” Then, in direct contradiction of his comment, John proceeded to shoo the onlookers below decks to offer the group some privacy.
As the crowd thinned out, Luther had a chance to study his surroundings. The ship was very similar to the one Captain James had sailed. The other ships anchored nearby appeared smaller, but the bustle of activity on their decks continued. People had gathered at the sides facing the ship he was on, presumably to catch a glimpse of him. Captain Foxe finished giving orders to his crew and slowly eased himself down on the stool.
He appeared to be close to Luther’s age, with a mustache and a thinning hairline. His clothes and boots were salt stained. The cloth was much finer than any he’d seen before, and the metal buckles brought an unexpected surge of envy. Metal among the Cree was a rare commodity. He turned his attention back to the group around his son. The young red head seemed to be a good friend of his son and hovered close in support. Joseph was dressed in the pants of the white men, with his upper body still wrapped in dressings from the bear attack, and a light blanket draped carefully around his shoulders to fend off the light breeze that had sprung up.
The Inuit woman who sat by his side was definitely more than a friend. The looks she kept giving Joseph were very proprietary. As soon as he could get Joseph alone, he would find out what their relationship meant. In the meantime, the ship held many clues as to the visitors’ intentions. This ship, unlike his friend Captain James’ ship, carried many women. From the description of the voyage his friend had given him when they wintered together, it was very unusual to see women on ships, unless they were planning to stay. His plan for Joseph to accompany Captain James to learn about the white men may have been more important than he had realized when he sent Joseph on the voyage.
A slight cough from Captain Foxe interrupted Luther’s musings. “I’m delighted that you were the first person to meet us. Had you received some advance notice of our arrival?” Captain Foxe paused to remove his hat and wipe his brow. “This weather is a definite improvement over the earlier part of our voyage. Your son was telling me about his home, but he never mentioned that the weather was so fair.” Luke seemed to be uneasy and paused, waiting for a reply.
Luther let the pause stretch out. Experience had taught him the first one to break a silence generally lost the negotiations and this session had all the signs of an important outcome. Luke finally continued, “I suspect you’re curious as to why we are here?”
“My friend, Captain James, warned me that white men might come with bad intentions. Are you one of those? He said they would come to steal, rape, and murder my people. That the French and Spaniards were not to be trusted”.”
Luke took a deep breath. “Your friend was wise, but we are not French, nor Spanish. I’m an Englishman, but our group is from Denmark, a small country far to the east, across the great sea. Captain James sailed with us when we left Denmark, but he stayed behind at our last stop to lead the people who remained there. We seek trade and friendly relations with the tribes in this land. Your son has told us much about you. He said that you are a peaceful and honorable people. I would like to speak to you and your tribe on these matters.”
Luther held up his hand. “There will be time for this. But for now, my son, who was thought to be lost, has returned. I would like to return to my village to give them the news and rejoice.” He smiled before continuing, “And to tell them that the warning I had sent was unneeded. You are welcome to accompany me with a small party of your own people. It is just a short trip by small boats up the river.”
“Chief Longspear, I would be delighted.” Luke turned to his first mate. “John, please prepare the longboat for a short trip. You’ll be in charge while I’m gone. Svend, you’ll come with, along with Joseph and Karima and the doctor.”
John leaned close to whisper to Luke. He looked fit to be tied. “But, Captain, what about guards? If they mean you harm, you’ll be unprotected. Please take at least two or three men.”
“John, we’re here in peace. If they are hostile, two or three wouldn’t make a bit of difference, and they would be an insult if they are friendly. We want to live here, and they’ll be our neighbors. It makes no sense to start off on the wrong foot. Just have the boat ready in fifteen minutes.”
“Aye, aye Captain.”
Luke walked over to where Joseph and his father were catching up on events in the village. “We’ll be ready to leave in a short time. I suggest that Joseph ride in my boat. It will be safer as far as getting his wounds wet.”
Luther nodded agreement. “I should start now. I sent my grandson away earlier to warn the village that strangers had arrived. I may need some time to round up everyone from their retreats. Joseph can give you directions to the best spot to land near the village.”
Luther gingerly embraced Joseph again, and then padded across the deck to the entry port. As he turned to descend, he spotted Captain Foxe standing near the boat that was being prepared to be lowered. An unspoken thank you passed between them, for the safe return of his son. After the barely perceptible nod, Luther turned and carefully descended the battens to his canoe. A quick tug untied the line and he settled down in the rear and shoved off. His powerful strokes helped hide his sobs of joy as the canoe headed upstream. My son lives!
Captain Foxe watched enviously, as Chief Longspear paddled away. The chief just had to let his people know all was well. Luke’s months-long voyage was at an end, but a new world’s problems were about to land squarely on his shoulders. Ever since the loss of Sir Thomas Roe when the Hamburg was lost in the storm, he had gone from crisis to crisis and the weight of leadership had grown heavier. Now he had to negotiate with the natives to secure a living place for his people. Failure in the hours ahead meant ruin for many and possible death for those around him. For the first time in his life, his sailing skills couldn’t save him. He needed to be a diplomat and, at this moment, he truly missed Sir Thomas. Polished speech was not something he was any good at. He’d always been gruff and unpolished in dealing with people, but at least he’d been honest. Hopefully that would be enough.
A loud squeal broke Luke’s reverie, as a spar was swung around for the bosun’s chair to assist Joseph into the longboat. One problem at a time. First I’ve got to convince the chief we’re worthy to be his neighbors! One of the sailors grabbed a frayed rope and started to run it through the block on the end of the spar for the chair. John Barrow noticed it even before Luke could shout a warning and read the sailor the riot act for his negligence. Luke let John handle the sailor’s error. Years together had taught Luke to trust John’s judgment. He sighed, trying to ease the knot of fear in his stomach. Just what I need. Having to tell the chief we’d let his son drown would not be a good way to start the meeting. The chair was finally secured with a new rope and swung out to the rail where Joseph was waiting with Svend and Karima. Svend assisted Joseph into the seat and Karima gently tied down the rope fastenings to secure him for the short ride down to the longboat.
John double checked to make sure everything was secure and then leaned over the side to make sure the boat hadn’t drifted out of position. A quick spin of his hand and the sailors standing nearby hauled away on the lines. The chair rose smoothly into the air and the spar was swung out. With the practiced eye of a cargo loader, John gauged the position and motioned for a slight adjustment further aft. Luke stood by, not saying a word. John was the best on board for this work and jiggling his elbow would only have bad results. Joseph was laughing and said something to Karima in Cree that made her blush and sent Svend into a coughing fit. That started Joseph laughing and the chair swinging.
“Hold!” shouted John. He had seen the look of surprise, mixed with fear on Luke’s face and realized things were getting out of hand. “As soon as you three can compose yourselves, we’ll try to finish this job. That water’s a might cold for swimming.” The sailors holding the line stifled their laughs and waited for John’s signal. Once the chair quit swinging, John motioned for them to pay out the lines and lower the chair. It settled squarely in the center of the longboat without raising a ripple. Joseph unfastened the restraining rope and shifted to the nearest thwart. Once he was clear, the chair was hoisted back on board.
Svend started to reach for a rope that was still dangling over the side to help Karima down the battens but Luke called out, “Don’t forget your drawing paper and pencils. I want this meeting recorded for posterity.” Svend mumbled an apology to Karima, handed her the rope and then hurried past her to the nearby hatchway. He returned a few moments later, still trying to adjust his backpack of drawing supplies. Captain Foxe was descending via the battens, so Svend simply grabbed the rope that was still hanging there and went down hand over hand like a monkey. As Luke settled himself on a thwart with his back to Svend, he yelled up for Svend to hurry. Svend’s quiet reply from just behind him of, “I’m already here, father,” resulted in Luke jumping two inches off the thwart. He turned and glared at Svend, but the stifled laughter of the boat’s crew ended in a father’s simple shake of the head. My stepson is growing up so fast.
Luke gave a quiet order to shove off and then turned toward the aftercastle, where John was leaning over the rail. “Mr. Barrow, I’ll be back by nightfall, or will send the boat back with word on how things are progressing. Let the other ships know where we stand. In the meantime, start crews to sweeping the river for hidden obstacles. If we’re going to settle here, we need to know as much as we can about the waters hereabout.” John still looked pained about the captain’s decision to leave the guards behind, but acknowledged the new order with a nod and turned to tell off the crews for the charting work.
As the rowers gave way, Luke reached for the spyglass he’d brought to study the river banks. The shore to the north was a marsh, with low sandbars marking the shore line. Suddenly, a white cloud of tundra swans rose into the air. Something had spooked the flock, but Luke couldn’t see whether it was a human or some predator. The graceful birds circled, but then settled back down. Evidently it was a false alarm. Luke turned the glass toward the southern shore. A brief flash of brown among the bushes hinted at a bear on a foraging hunt. The southern river bank seemed to hold the best promise for a watch tower site to provide an early warning post for the new settlement.
Captain James’ notes said the best anchorage he’d discovered lay on the south side of the islands upstream from the river’s mouth. As he steered the longboat to port, Luke scanned the approaching islands. They were covered in low brush to the shoreline, with Tamarack pines covering the interior. The trees were a distinct change from the pines of his childhood. These trees were tall and spindly, with short branches that seemed ready to fall off at the slightest touch. It’s a good thing I had John load the sawmill for this voyage. There are enough trees that we should be able to erect adequate shelter for the winter. I just wish we hadn’t lost all the heating stoves with the Hamburg. The loss of those, and the foodstuffs she carried, may come back to haunt us. Sounds from the rowers broke his concentration. The current had picked up as they cleared the island’s protection. “Put your backs into it, lads. It’s a good sign that we should have an adequate depth for the ships here. Hopefully, that’s our new home off to starboard.” The rowers seemed to dig in and the rhythm of the stroke increased, even while they took furtive glances at the passing shoreline.
Up front, the three young folks were avidly discussing plans for the coming days. Luke listened for a moment and then broke in. “That’s all very well and good, but what if they don’t want us here?” That had been Luke’s hidden fear since they had left Copenhagen. He watched Joseph to try one more time to get some sense of where he stood on the issue. “I’ll respect your father’s decision, no matter which way it goes. There is so much we can do for each other. I’m just afraid I’m not the best spokesman for us. Sir Thomas had such a way with words and could express the matter so much better.”
Joseph held up his hand. “Captain Foxe, I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that my father sent me to study your peoples because of that very question. The one thing I can say with certainty is that I believe you are an honorable man and will try to keep your word. I did learn about what history says would have happened to my people without the city in Germany. I also have an inkling of what the knowledge they brought back could mean to my people. If the Ring of Fire didn’t prove anything else, it proved that nothing is so written in stone that men of good intentions can’t change the future. Your treatment of Karima’s people, to whom you owe nothing, speaks well of your intentions. I will report to my father what I have learned. Rest assured, you will be listened to with an open mind.”
Joseph pointed toward an island ahead, off the starboard bow. “There’s the island our village is on. You’ll need to steer around the smaller island beyond to reach the beach that’s hidden around that spit of land. You should be able to see some boats soon.” As if at Joseph’s bidding, a small group of canoes appeared, heading towards the longboat. Leading them was Chief Longspear, with a younger boy at the prow of the canoe, waving wildly. The reception by the others, all males with weapons just barely visible, resting in the canoes, was more restrained, but still apparently friendly.