Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 36 - The Botched Trap Before the Storm

And now it's the day of the battle.  Time for the story's climax, I guess.

No matter what the traders' appellations for them: "bloodthirsty thieves," "treacherous savages," "ignorant barbarians," and others, the Pikunis did not feel themselves obligated to verify these spurious titles by attacking the fort without real reason.

Though as we've seen in the earliest chapters, sometimes Hubbard's Indians have to come up with some interesting logic to justify their actions.

Also, don't they already have real reason?  The author has repeatedly stressed how these lands belong to the Indians, he's declared that the whites' arms dealing is a clear and present danger to the Blackfoot, they've received word that a war host is now encamped on their borders, and of course these particular white guys have already falsely imprisoned, abused and attacked our beloved Yellow Hair.

Anyway, when McGlincy looks out from the fort at dawn, there's seven hundred Blackfoot doing that thing where they stand on the bluffs dramatically outlined against the sky.  But since one of their chiefs is approaching with the branch of I-want-to-parley, everything's going according to plan. McGlincy exposits to the Mustache about how he'll capture the chiefs and "shatter" the rest with cannons and rifles if they attack, but the Mustache warns that they both know "how cautious wild animals are in general."

McGlincy grinned.  "You've seen me being nice to Yellow Hair,

We have?

Flipping through recent chapters, the only time we've seen Yellow Hair and McGlincy interact on-page was during the wolf howl incident last chapter.  There was mention of Yellow Hair distrusting McGlincy's "kindness," but no examples of that kindness.  Unless the book's main villain was one of the anonymous Nor'Westers who gave gifts to Yellow Hair six chapters ago, and the author forgot to tell us.

but you've forgotten why we brought him along."

"That's so."

So wait, the Mustache actually forgot about the plan he hatched with McGlincy, and then spent months crossing Canada to carry out?

Anyway, Jacques - whoever that is - is summoned to fetch Yellow Hair, while the Mustache leaves the trading room to ready his rifles.  This is important, and the author stresses that Yellow Hair does not know that the Mustache had been in the house.  It'll only take a few pages for this to be relevant.

Yellow Hair is snappy and asks McGlincy what he wants, but the bad guy merely gives him an indulgent smile, talks of the "great service" Yellow Hair has done for the Nor'Westers, and produces a wad of bank notes as a token of his appreciation.  Yellow Hair asks what he's supposed to do for these strange pieces of paper, and McGlincy merely asks that Yellow Hair tell the chiefs to come in for "a nice, quiet parley."  And this sounds reasonable, I mean what kind of moron would try to start a fight with that many warriors surrounding him?  But Yellow Hair is still suspicious.

Yellow Hair said, "Is that all?"

"Why, yes, of course, that's all.  We all like you, Yellow Hair, and we think your influence with these people will aid us a great deal.  You've proven yourself a man of mettle.  Bless me, if you haven't!  These Blackfoot were worried about you last year and they'll do what you tell them.  Now, like a good lad, just step up there on the catwalk and sing out that I want to talk to them."

The villain just spent a paragraph mentioning all the reasons his plan is a terrible idea, as well as indirectly listing all the alternatives to it.

He's figured out that Yellow Hair is inexplicably important to the Blackfoot, so it might make sense to improve his relationship with him and then use the "renegade" as a bridge to interact with the locals, build a good business relationship and reducing conflict.  He's mentioned that his conflict with the Blackfoot started when they asked where Yellow Hair was last year, so that if he returned him to them, it might be defused.  And he's mentioned that Yellow Hair is extremely hard to kill, so maybe any plan that could end with pointing a gun at him might not be the best idea.

But McGlincy is set on having this war, so he'll go ahead with defying the convention of parley and trying to use some chiefs as hostages to subdue the people who are enemies in part because he keeps antagonizing them.

Also, why is he just now trying to bribe Yellow Hair?  Why wasn't this something he started doing back at Fort William months and months ago?  Why would you wait until the very last possible second to try to win over the person who is critical to your plan's success?  At least lie to his face and say how you want to avoid conflict with some peace talks, instead of emphasizing that you want to control these people through him.


So Yellow Hair is smiling, but not in a friendly way, because he knows things.  He knows that McGlincy wouldn't part with this much of that "money" stuff unless he planned on getting it back posthaste, and so Yellow Hair "saw his own doom in the pound notes."  He knows that there are three other people at the fort who speak Pikuni, but McGlincy selected him specifically because he knows the Blackfoot will do as he says.  And he's caught on to the fact that the book's bad guy is belligerently stupid.

So he throws the money into McGlincy's face all dramatic-like, and before the bad guy has time to draw, Yellow Hair's pointing his pistol at him, saying "You've played your last trick, dog-face."  But then someone pokes him in the back with a pistol, and says "How now, my pretty renegade.  What's this?  What's this?  Drop that gun, please."

And now you know why the author made a point about Yellow Hair not knowing the Mustache's whereabouts, to take some of the sting from our hero being caught off-guard.

But then Father Marc busts in and points his own pistol at the Mustache, telling him to - wait, no, Father Marc is useless and doesn't appear in this chapter.  Instead McGlincy scoops up his money, calls in Pierre (must be Jacques' brother), and orders Yellow Hair to give that invitation to the chiefs or else the Mustache will kill him where he stands.  So our hero is marched up to the wall, with a gun on him and Pierre hanging close to verify what he says, but as far as those outside the fort can see Yellow Hair's alone.

McGlincy repeats his demand that Yellow Hair invite the chiefs to "pow-wow" and... I mean, is Yellow Hair really necessary for this?  These Indians routinely come into the fort to trade, and it's indicated that the morons think parley means you can't attack people or something.  Hell, they were coming up to parley before they saw Yellow Hair in the first place.  Or if his presence is required, you could just have him come up on he wall with you so the others can see him while you make your invitation, and not - and this is important - stress how you expect Yellow Hair to control them.

Anyway, we come to the dramatic moment where Yellow Hair has been threatened with death if he disobeys his captors, but then he looks out upon his people gathered outside the fort.

Yellow Hair looked long at the lines on the heights.  The sun was there now, shining on the upheld lances, flashing from knives, letting the war bonnets glare in the proud glories of red and white.

With shields ready over their breasts, the host sat with impassive faces, waiting [sic] orders to attack or withdraw, all eyes fixed upon Yellow Hair.

Warriors all.  Equipped with the weapons that had twice conquered the eastern world; blood brothers to the valiant troopers who rode at the stirrups of Genghis Khan, of Tamerlane, kin to the samurai.  Drawn up, waiting orders, erect and haughty in their saddles, afraid of nothing.

A savage mob, this?

Again with the Mongols.  What, no comparison to the classic mounted knight of the West or closer horse cultures like the Parthians or Scythians?  Why are you trying to keep readers from viewing the Indians as savages by equating them to other mounted forces who were pretty damn savage?  The Mongols raped and massacred their way across the known world, flung plague-ridden corpses over besieged walls, made mounds out of their victims' skulls, subjugated Russia for generations while the rest of Europe was moving into the Renaissance, and dealt a blow to Arab science and culture with the destruction of Baghdad that the region still hasn't fully recovered from.  This isn't to say that they were the only people who did nasty things to other people, but the Mongols actively cultivated their reputation of cruelty in order to terrify their opponents into submission.

Also, the samurai?  Not exactly renowned for their cavalry (yes, some fought from horseback, but they weren't quite Mongols at it), and they'd probably be perturbed at being lumped with those barbarous horsemen who tried to invade their country.

Anyway, Yellow Hair looks from those noble savages to the drunken, treacherous rabble within the fort walls, and so he yells out "Pikunis!  Warriors!  Charge and do not leave a man alive!"  And it's a good thing Father Marc doesn't exist anymore, or else Yellow Hair might feel awkward about telling his people to kill his only white friend.

It actually takes several seconds for Pierre to get over the shock of this, but he eventually screams that Yellow Hair ordered an attack instead of a parley.  Our hero waits until Pierre finishes before he whirls about,

But Strathleigh had waited too long for this chance.

He aimed at Yellow Hair's face and fired.

Yellow Hair, on the instant, dived straight at Strathleigh.  The bullet and flaming powder hit.

In a struggling ball of humanity, the entire group spilled earthward.  But McGlincy stayed on the wall.  Without looking down, to the right or left, McGlincy screamed "KILL THOSE CHIEFS!"

Maybe Yellow Hair should've dove off the fort and then yelled "It's a trap!"

Anyhoo, the battle begins.  The Nor'Westers fire their volley, but Yellow Hair's warning means that Low Horns, White Fox, "and the rest" were already turning tail, so the worst that happens is Lost-in-Mountains' steed getting hit.  The Blackfoot are so awesome the White Fox and Big Wolf are able to catch the guy and lift him off his dying horse before he hits the ground.  Low Horns gives his own signal, and It is officially On.

The whole front had seen the shooting of Yellow Hair.  They believed him dead.

So are you now revealing his survival to us, author?  Defusing what little dramatic tension had time to build in the half-page since the Mustache took his shot?

It only required this to whip them into a rising roar of rage.

Bite me, Hubbard.

Yellow Hair's a young wannabe warrior who hasn't made a name for himself on the battlefield, spent his introductory chapter bitching at his older mentor figure, and isn't even a full-blood Pikuni.  But it's his supposed death that sets off the rest of the tribe, and not the treacherous shots fired at their leadership?

From seven hundred throats and more came the war cries.  A yip-yip and then, with voices soaring upwards to a shrill, screaming falsetto which ripped through the eardrums like so many knives, the host streaked down from the heights in a thundering charge.

And so we arrive at the chapter's cliffhanger ending, as the final battle begins.  And I'm really curious as to how this turns out, since cavalry charges against fortified positions bristling with firepower traditionally don't end well for the horsemen.

Back to Chapter 35

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