Metekw – Plains of Abraham

In the original draft, Me’tekw brought the recovering Amelie to a hospital inside Quebec City’s crumbling walls where she nursed the sick and wounded. Satisfied she was safe, he returned to the battleground at the Plains of Abraham to watch over her brothers. (September 13, 1759)


The distant sounds of men woke Me’tekw from his much needed rest. He was too far to hear voices, but he knew who had arrived. The English leader had chosen this isolated cove over the place where the French waited. A cunning decision.

He wanted no part of what was to come. He cared not who ultimately claimed this land, since it belonged to none of them. Mother Earth shared her gifts with her people, and Me’tekw knew she would not want anyone killed for her sake. But not wanting to get involved was different from curiosity. He crawled as close as he could toward the hushed sounds of scrambling bodies and English curses, wanting to assess the situation. He squinted through the predawn, seeing the muted red coats, the dull granite grey of grappling climbers’ faces and fingers. They crawled up the face like a hive of ants, voracious and resolute.

The early autumn trees stirred, dropping the first of their leaves as more Mi’kmaq and Maliseet came awake. As scouts for the French forces, they did not sleep. They saw Me’tekw, for he made no attempt to hide. He nodded to them, silent as ever, but gave them no reason to hunt him. The warriors returned his nod and moved on, seeing him as he was: a moth avoiding the flame.

The sky in the east began to glow as thousands of British reached the cliff top and assembled in the long, wet grass. Two cannon rolled alongside them, the muddied white wheels seeming barely up to the task. Despite their ridiculous uniforms, the men appeared disciplined and hard. Did they not know what clear targets they presented with all that red? His eyes passed over the tall, pointy hats of some, the black tricorns of others, and the strange bonnets on the largest of the men. The French said these big, rough-looking soldiers were Scots, men evicted from their own country and forced to work like slaves for the English. Perhaps the English had realized they were better off keeping the Scots than slaying them, for Me’tekw could tell these were warriors. They had seen this kind of conflict before. They did not seem afraid.

By the time the British marched toward the field, their little pipes chirping like birds, the sun was warm on their shoulders. As the path opened to a meadow they spread into two long, straight rows and stood still as stone, their pale faces expressionless. They appeared to be waiting. Their line stretched to include a few small houses, and shots rang out as the French defended their homes. The conflict was brief. Soon the homes were aflame, and smoke billowed into the sky.

Even then, it was hours before he heard French drums. Where was the man they called the Marquis de Montcalm? Why did he not come in haste with his soldiers? Did he underestimate this attack? What a grave error that might prove to be. The British waited in remarkable stillness, and though sweat trickled from under their woolen hats, they did not sway in the heat.

Finally, when the morning was half spent, the French forces appeared over a hillside, disorganized but fierce. Among them moved the Indian fighters. Me’tekw studied the approaching men, narrowing them down to the one he needed to watch.

Henri Belliveau was among the Indians. Me’tekw had expected him to join the battle, had never considered trying to prevent his participation, but he did mean to stay near enough to observe and possibly keep Charles’ son safe. Michel, Charles’ other son, would be fine. He had broken his leg a couple of days before in a fall. He would be both humiliated and understandably disappointed not to be a part of the war effort, but at least he was safe.

The French assembled in ragged lines at the base of the hill, three men deep, and Me’tekw studied their leader, the tall, imposing man they called Montcalm. The commander rode beside his men on a beautiful black horse, the blanket beneath his shiny saddle as red as the British wall before him. “Marchez!” he roared, flourishing his sword over his head. His order was answered by the blaring of trumpets and banging of drums, a useless burst of noise Me’tekw had never understood. His people fought very differently from these stiff armies, moving silently through the trees when they could, keeping hidden until there was no other choice. He couldn’t figure out why these men thought noise worked better than stealth. It made no sense to him.

The British commander reminded Me’tekw of a pompous male pheasant, brandishing his short, straight sword above his head. The ruffles of his ridiculous white shirt bounced behind a scarlet coat sparkling with gold buttons, and its long skirts flipped up, revealing an immaculate sky blue lining. Even his sword belt appeared to be sewn with gold thread. Me’tekw had seen many warriors parade around, trying to frighten enemies with their appearances, but this man seemed more concerned with showing off his tall, lanky form than he was in the approaching guns.

But he had the respect of his men. Not one of the thousands of soldiers did so much as scratch their nose without an order. Even when the French halted and sent a smokey volley across the field at the British, the only red coats to move were the unfortunate few who toppled to the ground as a result of the blasts. Even then, none of their companions so much as stooped to help the wounded, but Me’tekw saw the flaring of nostrils and widening of eyes, and a few of the larger, more restless soldiers—the ones in the bonnets—shuffled slightly. So they had fear, but they would not show it. Me’tekw reluctantly admired their discipline, and yet he was confused by the strategy. Why had the British trained their men to stand like rocks, waiting for French bullets to shred them? It seemed a strange approach, but there must be a reason for it. He sank back on his haunches, intrigued.

The French marched again, coming ever closer. Still, the British soldiers did not touch their weapons. Again the French fired and more British fell, crying out from their injuries and falling at their companions’ feet. Me’tekw blinked, even more confused. Surely the British didn’t mean to just hand over the victory, did they?

But no. This time, as the French were occupied with reloading their weapons, the fancy red coated commander yelled, “Fire!” and thousands of British soldiers fired as one, leveling row upon row of the French forces. Blinding smoke hid the invaders as they marched through the resultant smoke, maintaining their perfectly straight line. Then they stopped and fired a second time, joined by the cannons. The battle had taken a decisive turn, and now the British became hunters. As the French lines broke and fled, the Scots were freed from their place behind the front lines. They charged through, wild eyed and screaming, waving huge swords at anything before them.

Me’tekw moved in the trees, barely out of range, watching young Henri like a hawk. Suddenly Henri flew backwards then disappeared among the tall grass. Me’tekw raced onto the field, all his focus on the fallen man, then dropped to his knees beside him. Did his heart still beat?

Charles’ face was in Me’tekw’s mind as he lowered his ear to Henri’s mouth and listened to the tortured breaths, then he straightened, inspecting the damage. The arm was gone, the belly torn open. He stared at the body, wondering what he could possibly do to save him, then he looked back at Henri’s face. Under the dirt, beyond the unshaven cheeks, he saw Amelie’s brow, her curious smile, and he saw the answer. The grave wounds meant he could not move this man, but he could bring her here, to her brothers. She knew more than Me’tekw about these things. First he must remove Henri from immediate danger. Carrying Henri in his arms, he ran from the field and headed straight to the healing tent. He laid him down beside Michel, who promptly screamed for help. The noise would bring help. Satisfied, Me’tekw stepped back outside and began to run towards the hospital in the city.

The French were fleeing the field, devastated by the attack, and Me’tekw became aware he was running alongside the big Scottish warriors, though they did not see him. Intrigued, he watched one of the men stop midstride then separate from the rest, crouching by a fallen French militiaman at the side of the field. There was no time for hesitation in battle. Why would the Scot put himself in this kind of danger? Did he know the Frenchman? Curiosity took ahold of Me’tekw, and he went to see what about the wounded man had caught the Scot’s attention.

He saw it at once: the familiar lines of the fallen man’s face and crumpled body. It was the same hairline, even the same calm expression. This was Charles Belliveau, back from the dead, dressed in the militia’s ragged brown coat. The sight of his old friend struck Me’tekw hard in the chest, and he staggered back, certain he was seeing a ghost. That was the only explanation. He had seen his friend’s dead body through the grimy window of the tiny cabin before he had set it alight. He had said his goodbyes.

But if that were true, he realized, if this wounded man on the ground before him was Charles’ ghost, that meant the Scot had seen the same spirit.

No, this must be a different man. Me’tekw stepped closer, then he recognized the older, harder version of Charles Belliveau’ first son, André.

Me’tekw nearly cried out with gratitude. The Great Kisu’lk had given him a gift. The Creator was rewarding him, cleansing him of his vow to Charles Belliveau, for now he had found what remained of Charles’ family: Amelie, Henri, Michel, and now André.

His eyes went to the big man kneeling by the body. What had this to do with the Scot? And why did the man draw his short sword?

Me’tekw stepped decisively from the trees and strode toward them, wanting to be seen. The Scot withdrew slightly at sight of him, but he did not leave André’s side. André had been shot; blood seeped from a hole in his upper chest, blackening the dirty brown coat. His face had been hit as well, and Me’tekw wondered if his eyes were gone. There was too much blood for Me’tekw to see clearly.

Very deliberately, Me’tekw pulled his bow from his back, notched an arrow, and aimed for the Scot’s eye. He could hit it easily, put an end to this warrior’s life in an instant, but he needed to understand first. Kisu’lk had given him a puzzle which must be solved.

The man held his hands up and dropped his knife into the grass. “I know this man,” he said, his voice rough. “I want to help him.”

English. Me’tekw hated that foul language.

Keeping the arrow in place, Me’tekw narrowed his eyes and tried to figure out what to do.

“This man is my friend,” the Scot said slowly in French, startling Me’tekw. He hadn’t expected to hear that language spoken. Not from this man.

A group of Canadian militia rushed forward, surrounding the three. They had been hiding in the woods, picking off the British as they passed. A couple of Mi’kmaq sauntered up to see what was happening.

“Kill the filthy Englishman!” one of the Canadians ordered.

A pistol was raised and pointed at the kneeling man’s head.

Me’tekw did not know what to do. The relief he’d felt before was now riddled by questions. By finding André, had he fulfilled the promise he had made to his friend so long ago? He had done what he could. Wherever Charles’ spirit dwelt now, it smiled with relative contentment. After all, who could dream a man might keep all his children safe? It was not possible.

And yet Me’tekw could not leave. The defiant Scotsman claiming to be André’s friend presented a mystery he felt must be solved.

The militiaman cocked his pistol and Me’tekw made a decision. Turning, he shot his arrow through the wrist of the man holding the gun. As he fell, the others stared at Me’tekw, who had already set another arrow in readiness. No one moved. Very deliberately, he stepped toward the Scot and shook his head, forbidding the Frenchmen to move. If this man was, in truth, a friend of André’s, he must not be slain. The others stepped back, watching. Me’tekw stared down at the Scot, put his bow away, then held his wrists against each other in demonstration. You are my prisoner. The Scot did not object when his shaking hands were bound in front of his chest. When he was done, Me’tekw pointed at the bound man then pounded his own chest. He gave the Frenchmen a nod, giving them permission to take the prisoner away, but he never let his gaze soften. They must understand he would be back for this man. This man belonged to Me’tekw.

A militiaman grabbed the Scot roughly, and one of the Mi’kmaq pushed him away. “Do not harm this man. He is spoken for.”

Me’tekw turned and resumed his journey to the hospital, forcing even more speed to his legs. It appeared all three of Amelie’s brothers needed her now.