“’Tis not of the Nor’westers I give a thought, Ridgar,” he smiled, accepting the veiled raillery, “for you well know that we of the Company are above them, though it was but yesterday that an Indian brought word of a trapper at Isle a La Crosse being maltreated in the woods by a couple of their sneaking cutthroats and two packs of beaver taken from him for which they laughingly offered him in payment a bundle of mangy skins cast out from the summer’s pickings. ’Twas Peter Brins and I’ll wager that those two are marked for a long reckoning when the tables turn. And by the same Indian I hear that the young blade from Montreal with his light-haired brigade who stumbled upon us a while back, has reached his post on the Saskatchewan and has taken hold with a high hand, doing his utmost to intercept our Indians and turn the tide of the Company’s furs into the trading-rooms of the Nor’westers. I think it will be a bootless process, for we hold our people with the hand of surety.”
“Aye, but what of the Nakonkirhirinons, making their initial trip by way of Rapid River and Deer Lake, coming through the country of the Saskatchewan and held by no bond of loyalty? I see trouble ahead if this young De Courtenay gets wind of their coming, for they will be rich in peltry and they are a warlike tribe.”
“But they are to celebrate the Peace Dance in the lodges of the Assiniboines. Surely they will come straight to their friends before trusting their trade to any.”
Edmonton Ridgar shook his head.
“Hey fear nothing, these Nakonkirhirinons, and would as soon enter trade with one as another, having come for trade, if the values were above those at York and Churchill. I hope they swing eastward to Winipigoos and thus miss that young hot-brain on the Saskatchewan.”
“By the way, Ridgar, Pierre Garcon says that Bois DesCaut is at Seven Isles on the Qui Appelle with Henderson. Since telling that wanton lie to the Nor’wester he has not had enough to show his face here. A bad lot Bois, and one to be watched for tricks.”
“Aye, a bad lot, but salted with a prudence that savours of cowardice. His tricks are all turncoats that slip danger like an old garment.”
But for all Ridgar’s hope, at that very moment the great tribe from the far north country, even twelve leagues beyond the Oujuragatchousibi, was swinging down through the wilderness bound for the lodges of the Assiniboines, burdened with a wealth of peltry to make a trader’s eyes stand out and clad in all the glory of the visiting tribes, and it was heading straight for the country of the Saskatchewan.
Towering head-dresses swept above their moving columns, pomp and ceremony showed in the panoply of carved spear-heads, feathered shafts, and slung bows of the white ash which decked them on their peaceful mission, while underneath fringed garments of buckskin, stained and beaded with porcupine quills, were bands and stripes of war-paint. They were ready for anything that might happen in this unknown country into which they journeyed at the word of their friends the Assiniboines, given at the buffalo hunt the fall before, above the Great Slave Lake.