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Authors: Kerry Newcomb

War Path

BOOK: War Path
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War Path

Kerry Newcomb

For Patty, Amy Rose, Paul Joseph, and Emily Anabel

Contents

Author's Note

The Sugar-Making Moon

Prologue

The Gathering Moon

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

The Leaf-Falling Moon

13

14

15

16

17

The Winter Moon

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

The Big Leaf Moon

28

29

30

31

32

33

34

35

36

37

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Author's Note

Before Davy Crockett or Daniel Boone, there was Johnny Stark, one of the first heroes of the American Colonies and a key figure during the early days of this young country. He was a bold, adventuresome man; rough-hewn, courageous, and determined to live free or die.
War Path
is a work of fiction based on both the man and the myth. In attempting to craft a story that captures the spirit of this remarkable individual, I've taken liberties when and where I wanted to, for the sake of the narrative or just because the spirit moved me.

I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge Fred Anderson's
A People's Army
and
Crucible of War
, two brilliant works that provided wonderful insight into the period of time covered in my own writings. Also, I must further credit
The Journal of Major Robert Rogers
for some of the anecdotal references and local color, his standing orders for conduct, along with hearsay, recollections, personal narratives, and legend. Any departure from historical fact is strictly my own doing.

“Some climb to good,

Some from good fortune fall …

For Destiny plays us all.”

—Abraham Cowley, “Destinie.”
Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the 17th Century
, Herbert Grierson, ed.

“Let 'em have it!”

—Standing Orders, Rogers's Rangers.

The Journal of Major Robert Rogers
, 1759 Dublin

Now sit you down.

Satahonhsatat!
Listen!

For I shall speak of valiant men

and heroic deeds,

of battles fought

and garments rolled in blood.

The Sugar-Making Moon

1755

Prologue

“At the first dawn of day, awake your whole detachment; that being the time when the savages choose to fall upon their enemies …”

J
ohnny Stark was big, he was ugly, he had dignity, and he wasn't about to die. Not now. Not for a long time. So there he stood, blood seeping from his broken nose and staining the linen shirt he wore open to the waist. Stark's thick forearms folded across his barrel chest, his brown eyes, dark as pitchbark, flared with anger as he stared past his doomed companions; studied his Abenaki captors, weighed the odds which were none too good. If there was a way out of this mess, it would be hard going and it was going to hurt.

Two columns of warriors in war paint, twelve men to either side, faced one another along the banks of Otter Creek. The savages formed a gauntlet, a passage a couple of yards in width, and hardly inviting. They howled like wild beasts, waved their weapons aloft and exhorted their captives to bravely meet their fate for there was no honor in killing cowards.

“I wish I had stayed home in Derryfield,” muttered one of the Green Mountain lads. By luck of the draw, bad luck too, Henry Walch had been chosen to be the first to try and reach the far end of the gauntlet and safety. None of his companions, not Abel Page nor Ford Fargo, chose to comment.

“Read 'em from the book, Henry,” rumbled Stark, willing back the waves of pain.

“Chapter and verse,” Walch replied in a thin voice. He could think of nothing else to add. He knew what he had to do, run like hell and ignore the punishment he was about to receive. Walch tucked his chin low, ducked and started down the slope toward the gauntlet. If he could reach the staff thrust into the ground at the end of the gauntlet … that's all he had to do. Stay alive. Stay alive and keep putting one foot before the other.

“You can make it, Henry,” shouted Abel Page, the youngest of the four who clung to the fast fading hope that somehow they would all survive this terrible trial.

Despite Abel's encouragement and indeed to the younger man's horror, Walch didn't make more than a yard or two down the gauntlet before one of the warriors struck him a terrible blow with a war club. Walch's skull shattered like kindling beneath the impact of the smooth-carved, six-inch round knob of ironwood that capped the weapon. The hunter passed the pearly gates with his head split and his brains leaking down over his eyes like plum sauce.

Abel Page doubled over and retched.

“Damn,” Stark muttered. A warrior standing close to him jabbed his musket into his broad back. Johnny's gaze hardened as he glanced over his shoulder at the man who had already clubbed him in the face and cracked his nose. “Bound or no, I'll wrap that musket 'round your scrawny neck,” he warned.

“You tell him, Stark,” said Ford Fargo, who like his brother, Cassius, had never been much more than a troublemaker in Cowslip, given to drink and a surly disposition. But the Fargo boys knew their way around the forest and could read deer sign and that made either of them welcome on a hunt. A twisted ankle had prevented Cassius from joining the hunters and sharing his brother's predicament. Ford ruefully taunted Stark. “Tell him how you wrassled that bear on the Mad River a'fore you were full growed. That'll skeer the murdering heathen right enough.”

The Fargo brothers were short, stocky, farm-bred men who had envisioned a fortune to be made in the howling wilderness. On this fateful day, Ford wasn't thinking about wealth and privilege, but of his brother, Cassius, safe at home in Cowslip. Ford wished he were carousing with his elder sibling right this very moment. Oh to be with his kin back on the farm, downing flagons of rum, gorging on quail and pheasant and succulent pork … to see another morning rise up over newly planted fields of corn and squash and peas and hear the voices of his mates raised in loud song, to taste the hot sweet kisses of Tess McDonagel at the Kit Fox Tavern in Fort Edward across the mountains. Now brother Cassius would have to bed her for him, the lucky sod.…

The Abenaki warrior closest to them, a man who carried himself with an air of authority befitting a sachem, snapped orders to the other braves, then took his knife and sliced through the rawhide rope that had bound Fargo's wrists. His reverie shattered, and now free to take his chances, Fargo lumbered forward, then paused by young Abel Page and growled, “This is your doing. It was a poor watch you kept. You let 'em into our camp, damn your eyes!”

“Let him be, Ford,” Stark warned.

Fargo snapped back, “I'll use my last breath how I choose. And mind you how I die, Johnny Stark; should you live to be giving an account to Cassius. Tell him blood for blood. I'll have blood for blood and nothing less.” Then he turned and ducked low and lumbered off toward the warriors, his arms raised to protect his head, his fists clenched, his tattered shirt fluttering behind him like a beggar's cloak. In attempting to shield his skull, Fargo left his torso open and vulnerable.

As he entered the gauntlet, an Abenaki brave swung a mighty blow and caved in the yeoman's ribs. Ford howled as shards of bone pierced his lungs. Gagging, spitting blood, he stumbled forward in a zigzag motion that brought him from one side of the gauntlet to the other. A glancing blow left a lump over his eye the size of a goose egg. Like Walch before him, Fargo was no runner. Not that it would have mattered. The Abenaki didn't plan on any of their captives surviving the gauntlet. The moment he fell to his knees, the warriors closed in and finished him off. His cries faded beneath the crunch of flesh and bone.

The Abenaki, drawing back from Fargo's corpse, assumed their ranks again and proceeded to taunt the remaining two men. Was this the best these Yankees could do? Was there not one among them worthy of such sport?

Abel Page, tears streaking his youthful features, glanced aside at his towering companion. Johnny Stark, a head taller than the wide-eyed youth, cut an even more impressive figure when compared to the lithe, compact warriors who taunted and jabbed him with their muskets. Standing a shade over six feet in his moccasins, the raw-boned, twenty-seven-year-old long hunter from the Green Mountains was an imposing figure, despite the heavy raw-hide cords that bound him.

Stark contemplated his captors This lot was well armed with fine muskets and steel blades given to them by the
voyageurs
. Years ago, Johnny Stark had decided he had no use for the French. He'd buried too many friends and neighbors, slaughtered by savages armed by the
voyageurs
headquartered north of Fort St. Frederick up on Lake Champlain. In this contested wilderness, the Abenaki had allied themselves with Montcalm's troops who appeared to have the upper hand and continued to press the British forces and their colonial allies. Not that Stark didn't bristle and chafe under English sovereignty whenever he had the chance, but at least the colonists and their mother country shared a common foe.

Abel Page chewed on his lower lip, his chest rose and fell as he struggled to breathe through the fear that gripped him like a vise. “We are done for, Johnny.” His voice had a shrill quality, like the bleat of a frightened animal.

“Do not let them see your fear.” Stark lifted his eyes to the hills. It was from this good land he took his strength, this untamed country where a man could roam and dream and … be free. From his earliest recollection, these forests, cliffs, and cold clear rivers had called him. The green fuse that burned in birch and maple and pine, that forced the rivers through the chutes, that fired the fierce gleam in the eyes of bear and lynx, fueled his proud soul.

“This bunch will have their way with all of us.” Page scowled and tried to back away as a pair of warriors advanced on the youth and sliced through the cords that bound his wrists. “I would see my dear cousin again, bless her. If Molly were here she would shoot their lights out.” He tried a game smile. His chin trembled, his eyebrows arched above his glistening eyes.

“That she would,” said Stark. “And mine too for bringing you along on the hunt. I have much to answer for.”

“It weren't your doing, Johnny. I'm the one who fell asleep and let these red devils into our camp.”

But Stark could not free himself of the guilt. He had promised Molly he'd look out for her young cousin, promised Abel's parents, Ephraim and Charity that he would bring their son safely home. But the lad had never been cut out for the wooded places, for the forests and rivers that stretched from the Adirondacks into Canada and that the savages and warring French armies had turned into a killing ground.

BOOK: War Path
8.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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