Fully half of the three hundred rifles leveled through the loopholes in the palisades were discharged before the Pikunis were in range. The eddying, red-stabbed clouds of white smoke from the black powder hung like a fog outside the log slabs, momentarily hiding the enemy from view.
Aside from wasting their shots and making it harder to land successive attacks, many of the men inside the fort freak out upon hearing the warcry of the now-invisible, charging Blackfoot host, so between all the smoke and the screaming, "chaos reigned" behind the walls. And as if this didn't defuse enough tension in this climactic battle, Yellow Hair suddenly pops up, very not dead from last chapter's point-blank shot.
He's a bit dazed, and doesn't know where the Mustache and Pierre scampered off to, and he's covered in blood. See, that bullet "had ripped across his throat without touching the jugular vein, and his face was on fire with the burn of the powder." But hearing his people's warcry immediately rallies our beloved Yellow Hair, and like his months in captivity before his escape from York Factory, our hero's injuries will have no effect on his ability to perform eyebrow-raising combat stunts. Hell, getting shot in the throat doesn't even stop him from yelling orders this chapter.
So Yellow Hair heads towards the wall, runs into a fleeing voyageur, floors him in one punch and takes his rifle and pistol. He aims and takes a shot to down a gunner on the wall, then climbs up the ladder and charges along the wall, knocking people down. And it's weird, the author mentions that Yellow Hair can hear McGlincy roaring somewhere in the distance, but our hero doesn't seek out his nemesis - instead it's McGlincy who hears one scream out of many, notices Yellow Hair, and gets a mook to dramatically barely miss him.
Guess Yellow Hair has his eye on the prize. He dashes along the wall despite a hail of bullets - "He was moving too fast to be hit," see. When Yellow Hair reaches the bastion, he takes down a gunner by smashing his teeth in with the butt of his pistol, stabs him before he finishes hitting the ground, and snatches the torch the guy was holding, all in two sentences.
Yellow Hair hears the "thud of horses striking up against the the log slabs," conjuring the mental image of the Blackfoot cavalry running head-first into the palisade walls. But I guess they're doing what Long Bow did two chapters ago, getting their horses against the wall, standing on their backs, so they can climb up and over. And of course the bullies on the walls are pulled over or knocked down, no Indians are thrown back or anything, don't worry. But other bad guys come up to "savagely contest the wall," so pretend this is exciting.
And then, all that's missing to make this a proper Hubbard Action Sequence are the gratuitous exclamation points.
There was no time for indecision or thought.
Yellow Hair grabbed at a cannon, slashed its ropes, slammed it completely around, depressed the muzzle at the gate and applied the match he held.
The author suggests that Yellow Hair did all this without thinking about it, yet he deliberately grabbed the dead guy's match just a few sentences ago, suggesting he was planning something.
The cannon thundered and hurtled backward and off the bastion.
The shot blasted through the gate, tearing it half off its huge hinges.
Yellow Hair yipped and shouted, "To the gate, Pikunis! The gate!"
Not even a little wince from yelling out of a mangled throat. Oy.
Three more bad guys appear to threaten our hero, but in once sentence he's able to jump over the second cannon, cut it loose, swing it around, and light its fuse before tumbling fifteen feet over the wall. Kaboom, the cannon fires behind him. Sure is a good thing these guys utterly failed to use the artillery pieces that McGlincy made such a big deal about using to sweep the Indians off the walls, when the Indians were taking the walls. Guess they were waiting for their commander's express order or something.
Naturally, that nasty drop didn't do anything to our hero but require him to shake his head to clear it, then he's able to grab a riderless horse and swing himself into the saddle, riding it out of the smoke to bump into White Fox. As a stoic old Indian, wide eyes are the only sign that White Fox is delighted to see Yellow Hair again. And you might be under the mistaken impression that White Fox is leading this battle, but
Yellow Hair shouted, "The gate!" and then realized he had to explain. "This was into the fort! Recall our people! Follow me!"
I'm thinking that "was" is supposed to be "way."
So Yellow Hair leads the charge, the chiefs and horde of warriors following him into the smoke and noise, with nary a doubt or moment of hesitation. Yellow Hair's able to get his horse to budge against the blasted gates to force them fully open, and then the Blackfoot are in the courtyard. And it's very much like pulling one of my favorite tricks in Medieval II: Total War - when besieging an enemy castle or settlement, keep them occupied facing your main force at the front gate, while your Spy opens a side entrance so you can ride your cavalry right inside, running down your foes as they try to flee to the safety of the inner keep.
Because that's exactly what happens, the voyageurs and bullies and other terms for fur traders all try to flee to safety instead of staying on the walls. Some make it to the trading house, while the rest run right out of the fort but are rounded up and taken prisoner. And the author points out that they're surprised to be wrangled "like so many horses" rather than killed, but of course these heroic Indians would never slaughter an opponent who had thrown down his weapon and run away. They might then strip him naked and force him to run before hunting them, but they'd be fully justified in doing that because the white guys are treacherous and stuff.
At that point things just kinda peter out. McGlincy and the Mustache are holed up in the trading room, and while the former tried to get his men to keep fighting, the order was swallowed up by all the chaos and yelling. Now, "Inside the fort, the clamor subsided by degrees."
...Wonder what Motley and his lads think of all this? Surely they've noticed the horde of seven hundred angry natives descending upon their commercial rivals across the river. Guess it's not really their problem.
Back to Chapter 36